30 October 2013

“Give Yourself to Dreams”: On Wax Idols

In this season of mists and spookiness, now is the best time to discuss Wax Idols. As much as I hear different influences through punk, post punk, and riot grrl or even specific vocal influences like Corin Tucker or the occasional Joey Ramone, I’m not interested in comparisons as a way to critique. Hether Fortune is more than capable so let’s leave it at that. There’s only one Siouxie, one Blondie, one Wire – so let there be one Wax Idols. I will single out influences, but only to indicate how well the band uses them. Capable musicians refine with intelligence rather than reproduce mechanically. Wax Idols is exciting because of its talent not its record collection.

No Future is quite a winning record because it’s an exciting sprint through their strengths. It’s also an incredibly fun album because of its lack of bullshit. The point of the debut is announcing itself and doing so without fuss. Sparse production and bare arrangements like any great, classic punk record of yore are evident much to its power. “Dead Like You” is a fine introduction with some strong guitar playing, but the next song “Hitman” really shows the band’s style. The song builds to two climaxes: the exclaimed “Let’s go!” (who on earth wouldn’t want to follow?) and the closing repeated “Kill ‘em all (kill ‘em kill ‘em).” Already two songs completed and you want to hear more – or hear them again. Another blast of the same energy ending with a frustrated scream ("Dilno") and the record has made its challenge. Then you get "Gold Sneakers" with “I I la-la-love you” as its refrain – quite a change, but a welcome one after the opening intensity. “Nothing At All” features an acoustic performance that gives way to the band roaring back. “Human Condition” opens side two with some feedback reminiscent of latter-day Mission of Burma. A manifesto on social torpor, it’s followed by a more dynamic evaluation of the first world working week, “Bad Future”. Engaging and unrelenting, whatever the lyrics each song is excellent.

Truly amazing is the cover of Wire’s “Sand in My Joints” because of how the band punches it up. It bristles with even more energy and attitude than the original. It’s a great instance of musical scene chewing and it works so well. Then with easy enthusiasm, they close with one of the record’s most exciting songs: “Grey Area”. This is a wonderful anthem showcasing No Future's strengths.

Discipline + Desire then came as quite a surprise. Stylistically, it felt like the band had jumped from The Damned (Damned Damned Damned) to Interpol (Turn On the Bright Lights). That said, by no means is it a sophomore slump. Actually, the increase in quality is more pointed as it’s a forward stride in imagination as much as sophisticated production value. The element that stands out immediately is the drumming. A feature of both records, it’s refreshing to hear a band with such a great sense of rhythm. The guitar feedback and singing prove to be even more explosive. It’s a superb blend of strengths that make the album such a tour de force.

Discipline + Desire is an appropriate title in terms of album sequencing: the first half aggressive and the second half more seductive. The Teenage Jesus vibe that announces the record – aggressive and stabbing a la “Orphans” – only begins to scratch the surface of new influences as well as unique talents within the album. The menace of side one begins with “Stare Back” as it stares into the recesses of humanity. (A typical day at work?) The playing like the singing is cold and imperious. Never aloof, the songs are exciting and brash much like No Future. It culminates in “Scent of Love” with a remarkable performance worthy of Jarboe circa Sacrificial Cake. The second side eases back on the sonic assault, but stays strong on its influences. A less abrasive side of songs, they’re among my favorites. Chief among these pleasing characteristics is the ballad-like nature of the songs. Engaged with the subjects of the songs, the singing is more introspective and highlights the beauty of Fortune’s voice. This culminates in “AD RE:IAN” with some excellent Daniel Ash-like guitar playing. A contrast to side one, the nuance in the guitar playing is beautiful to hear. Ending on a high note much like No Future’s “Grey Area” is the introspective “Stay In” which caps the many strengths of the album's new directions.  Self-seriousness is no crime so it’s nice how the album ends on a silly note with an unlisted track called “Dead Boys Can't Say No”. Part of me wondered if it was a cover of some lost 45 Grave song. It takes some confidence to end such a dark, brooding record with dry humor like this.

Which album is the best? I think this is the wrong question - especially as both albums showcase different, excellent sides of the band. No Future says "Kill 'em all" and Discipline + Desire says "Dethrone them all" with equal amounts of malevolence. The reason for artistic change is continued growth and here Wax Idols shows its talent. Consistent to both records is the quality of singing. The singing is genuine and effective without being too earnest or distant. No Future is effective to the point of little nuance although that works very well to show where the band and the songwriting excels. Clipped, but not diffidently so. The emotion carries each song to provide extra force. No Future, contrary to its title, explores what the band can do. Their next record, however, threw down the gauntlet. Discipline + Desire is colder, but the vocals have a richer palette. Bewitching, nuanced, and layered in a way that only practice and confidence affords. She knows that we’re listening. On the strength of these two albums so will we.

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