28 October 2015

"I’m not nothing" - The Return of Wax Idols

Just a short review here as I'm really excited for this new album!

American Tragic by Wax Idols is the latest evolution in the band’s sound. And there’s so much to love here in the band's step forward: production, mixing, drumming, lyrics, song titles, even the sequencing is perfect. This is the Wax Idols experience at a new high. Shinier, more piercing, and even more engaging. An absolute gem of a pop record that’s high among the year’s best.

While the album looks short at nine songs, it’s a slow burn of a musical journey that explores the dreams and ambitions of being one’s own distinct self. As statements of intent, there are song titles bearing this out: "I’m Not Going", "Goodbye Baby", and "Severely Yours" which sounds like an especially acerbic (and delicious) closing to a break-up letter. So with this new album, Wax Idols is here to stay. Detractors can’t hold her back or make a dent in that resolve to make her own way. While Discipline + Desire was in parts a record of drowning, struggling, and persevering, American Tragic is what happens when you finally come to the shore and stagger forward. Coming to shore like Nancy in The Craft, let me add.
While "A Violent Transgression" starts it all off ominously like its predecessor but with a smoother malevolence, it isn’t until the next song "Lonely You" that the album's sonic change becomes apparent and announces the band’s evolution. It’s obvious why this is a single - with an equally stylish and memorable music video starring Wax Idols mastermind Hether Fortune! Endlessly listenable and incredibly catchy, it’s everything that one could love about Wax Idols. It’s a perfect song, but those haunted vocals higher in the mix really make it stand out in the band’s catalog a Wax Idols anthem. To remind us of how she got to shore is "I’m Not Going" which is a beautiful hymn to persevering. It’s in "Deborah" that we have the album’s highlight, however. The guitar and drums create some wonderful tension which the singing hardly alleviates - only to make it all explode in the choruses. Harder drums, cavernous guitar, and some sparse Cure-like synth, this exorcism in song is a knock out. I would take a guess that the Deborah in question is Deborah Curtis speaking to her late husband. Maybe I’m wrong on that interpretation – if not it’s about time someone broached the subject so hats off to Wax Idols – but regardless it’s a great song about moving past those who’ve hurt or betrayed us. "Goodbye Baby" coming off the heels of "Deborah" makes explicit the need to make a break with another person. Another great song it also features some especially expressive singing. What really becomes wonderfully obvious in the second half of American Tragic is the mixing. The vocals sound better than usual and reveal a wonderful swagger to the singing. The intense brooding of Discipline + Desire now reinforced with an infectious swagger is a combination that helps American Tragic (and Wax Idols) reach a new level aesthetically. "At Any Moment" – great solo and keys by the way – makes this especially clear. But to hear the difference compare Discipline + Desire closer "Stay In" to "Seraph". While the yearning and frustration that helps make "Stay In" such a perfect song are present, the vocals are curiously buried somewhat as if those emotions should haunt rather than confront. An aesthetic tactic that does work let me add, but in "Seraph" it all springs to life from the very beginning. And with a bit of Cult-like attitude in that opening guitar! All to great effect as the album closer is a powerful reclamation of one’s self and a perfect summation of American Tragic. I’m not nothing, indeed. May the ambitions of Wax Idols burn forever.

16 October 2015

Roxane Gay

We had the distinct pleasure of seeing Roxane Gay this Wednesday evening past at University of Kentucky's Singletary Center for the Arts. Coming to stage in an unassuming and relaxed manner, she took a seat and began to read. She immediately won over the audience in the crowded hall with "UPS Man" which transfixed me with its humor and lovely appreciation for the delivery man. I've never laughed so much with one person's appreciation for the human form. Then she read chapter one of her novel An Untamed State which was more somber but showed a keen attention toward emotional states. It sounds like a tough novel to read given the story in that chapter but it was very intriguing given its power. Then she read three pieces from her essay collection Bad Feminist: "Typical First Year Professor", "How to Be Friends with Another Woman", and "Bad Feminist, Part Two". Then there was a Q&A where on the pop culture front she was asked about Joss Whedon, Taylor Swift, and BeyoncĂ©/Jay-Z and also on matters of writing, self-care, and surviving in academia. This was one of the best author talks that I've attended and Gay's insightful comments were appreciated. She was humorous and relaxed, always whipsmart, and a delight. I commend the university for bringing such a wonderful writer to its campus.

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