The vulnerability poured into the Wax Idols’ otherwise-polished American Tragic is a winning combination
Released on October 16th via Collect Records
Between Wax Idols’ last album Discipline and Desire (2013) and now, a lot has happened to front-woman, multi-instrumentalist and band leader Hether Fortune. Namely, a marriage, a divorce and touring the world playing bass for White Lung. Third album American Tragic sees Fortune dealing with the inevitable topics of loss and breaking up, but to see it in only those terms would be a simplification and downright incorrect.
The album is more of a general representation of sadness, isolation, reflection and ultimately empowerment. Fortune wrote and played everything but drums (played by Rachel Travers) on each of the nine tracks, with engineering and producing help from Monte Vallier. This album is unrelenting in its sonic and lyrical stimulation. It demands that you keep your ears, heart and mind open throughout.
American Tragic sees a perfect opening in ‘A Violent Transgression’. Fortune’s ghostly but commanding voice spreads smoothly over a demandingly haunting beat that eventually morphs into a mildly groovy tune. In just one track, the album has fully garnered the listener’s attention. Second song ‘Lonely You’ shows off Fortune’s pop song-writing skills early on, before the more mellow and dreamy ‘I’m Not Going’. The latter illustrates just one of the many examples of the sheer lyrical honesty and vulnerability exuded throughout this album.
Things get back on their feet again with the dance-embracing ‘Deborah’, but don’t let its upbeat groove detract from the song’s subject. Fortune told Noisey “this song is a big ‘fuck you’ to people who capitalize on the vulnerability of others.” But besides that specific explanation, the lyrics in general hit the nail on the head of someone getting to you on a personal level, and how they seem to play on your mind in the aftermath: “Now you linger”, and the euphoric sensation when you appear to be getting over it: “I feel it fading”. This song’s second half culminates perfectly in the gorgeously catchy refrain of repeating the song’s title over and over again.
Mid-album track ‘Goodbye Baby’ is sung through gritted teeth as you feel Fortune letting go of what was once hers. One line “I owe me/More than I owe you” is something that, when realised, is empowering because it is difficult. It is assertions like this one that explain why Fortune is a figure so admired for being a woman completely in control of everything that she does.
‘Glisten’ is as perfect as opener ‘A Violent Transgression’. As soon as it kicks off, it sends shivers down my spine. Its haunting underbelly, juxtaposed with delicious poppy hooks reaches a level above and beyond enchantment. The obvious highlight being Fortune sweetly chanting “I wanna know”, followed by a simple dissonant guitar riff. In contrast, following track ‘Severely Yours’ is probably the most light-sounding and accessible. The characteristic gothic depths of this album are temporarily pushed to one side. The guitar is soft while Fortune’s different vocal tracks seem to come at you from every angle in the chorus.
This seemingly straightforward pop-sound continues with ‘At Any Moment’, an upbeat but subtle musical backdrop allows for the vocal delivery to stream freely. End track ‘Seraph’ is superb—one of the best album conclusions I’ve ever heard. The broken syllables tensely delivered in the verses contrast with a more explosive chorus, in which Fortune states assertively “I replenish myself/Cos I’m not nothing”, an ode to the emotional strength one needs when going through a painful situation. The album sees a triumphant ending, because Fortune repeats “I’m still burning” in her knowing and rounded voice. In that moment, you feel as empowered and ready to conquer as she does. She said in an interview with Cultist Zine, “I don’t think anybody would listen to this record and at the end be bummed, […] they would be like, ‘I can do anything!’” And she’s exactly right. Fortune’s ability to present human qualities like vulnerability, sadness, loneliness, alienation, anger and loss as powerful, energising, strong, and above all, something you can make your own, never fails to amaze me.
As usual with Fortune, she has completely put everything into this record. You can tell her heart and soul were poured into this. Her intelligence, passion, articulation and devotion to her art never fail to produce something you simply can’t ignore. It also occasionally helps to have someone remind you that pop-sounding music can come from a wholly thoughtful, heartfelt place.
I also admire Fortune’s approach to her social and political opinions. They’re a very noticeable feature of her social media accounts and there aren’t many people who can be so articulate through a 140 character limit. But as well as that, she is a brilliant prose writer in her own right. Her music is very introspective and cathartic, yet she is clearly an artist concerned with the wider picture and uses her voice to amplify issues that need to be addressed. She told Paper Magazine of the album’s title “American Tragic […] ties together how I live in this society and culture as an opinionated and socio-politically informed person, which informs everything that I do. And even though the album is very personal and emotional for me, it’s a universal theme of feeling broken, abandoned, weak, and invisible.” Need I say more about how brilliant this is?
BEST TRACKS: ‘Glisten’, ‘A Violent Transgression’, ‘Seraph’, ‘Deborah’, ‘Goodbye Baby’, ‘Severely Yours’