On Wax Idols' third album American Tragic, frontwoman Hether Fortune remains as unafraid of change as ever. When the project recorded its 2013 breakthrough album Discipline + Desire, it was as a full band hailing from San Francisco; this incarnation of Wax Idols is a duo (Fortune and drummer Rachel Travers) from Los Angeles. American Tragic's title hints at the wider scope, symbolic imagery, and more accessible feel of these songs; where Discipline + Desire's angst was intimate and confrontational, this album writes it large. One of the few constants between this album and its predecessor is the involvement of producer Monte Vallier, but his collaboration with Fortune often sounds wildly different than before. Even the forays into Discipline-style darkness are sleeker and, well, more disciplined, whether on the icy, industrial-tinged "Glisten" or "Violent Transgression," where "Hey/It's violence" is a catchier chorus than it has any right to be. Indeed, much of American Tragic is remarkably poppy, at times feeling like a darker response to the '80s AOR revival popularized by the likes of HAIM -- or, less controversially, a continuation of Concrete Blonde's throaty, tough-but-vulnerable drama. "Lonely You" wraps its hooks in a glossy late-'80s sheen, while "I'm Not Going" could be kissing cousins with the Motels' "Only the Lonely." This more traditional approach makes Fortune's songwriting all the more subversive: "I could be your god," she sings on the radio-friendly "Severely Yours," and delivers a timeless-sounding breakup song in "Goodbye Baby." While some fans might not like how drastically different this album is from Discipline + Desire, the way Fortune wails "I'll still do anything, anything for love" on the excellent closing track "Seraph" proves that the passion in her songs is genuine, no matter how she expresses it.
(Digital Download - Collect Records #616892325048)
Review by Heather Phares