The title of Wax Idols’ latest LP is a joke. Inspired by tragedy both personal and political, the Bay Area band’s new album, Happy Ending, is certainly not that. Drenched in layers of post-punk, goth rock, new wave, and every other blistering signifier for brooding, contemplative indie rock, Happy Ending – which Noisey is premiering here – attempts to laugh at the pain and re-possess a struggle taken from them by late capitalism’s grubby little paws. It’s an album of multiple parts, clearly divided by this unnamed tragedy deeply felt by the band, an event that caused a fissure between the sound; two halves effortfully blended together.
“For me as a writer, I tried to figure out a way to stay true to the original idea that I had conceptually for what I wanted to write about and how I wanted to push myself to convey these stories and narratives,” Hether Fortune, the band’s songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist explains. “At first, the record was intended to be a bit more fictional, but now it’s visceral, and real, and current.” Hunkering down to write and record the album under the looming threat of a Trump presidency, the band (consisting of Fortune, Peter Lightning on guitar, bass, organ, and piano; Rachel Travers on drums; and Marisa Prietto on bass and backing vocals) began writing their poppiest music yet, some of which ended up on the final album. But between the election and personal loss that rocked the band, their focus shifted; the music became darker, more sinister, and more in-tune with Wax Idols’ prior discography – with post-punk nods. To bridge the aesthetic gap between these two poles, Fortune found a lyrical sweet spot that married the personal and the political, an existential anxiety both unique and universal to connect the record’s roving sound.
“None of us had never not dealt with tragedy affecting our lives, but what happened was obviously a huge thing – very different from anything we’ve experienced. So I just had to really hone my writer’s chops and put myself through the ringer emotionally and intellectually. I think the writing, lyrically, is what keeps everything together,” Fortune says. There’s a fascinating cognitive dissonance between the music and lyrics on many of the album’s tracks, an ecstatic play between mood and concept that makes Happy Ending an enthralling exercise in the tension between intention and results. “Too Late” takes a guitar riff from early-90s alternative bands and transposes it atop massive drums and philosophical tidbits from Fortune. “Bury your head inside the truth/ It’s the only way to kill the pain/ How lost you are/ How deeply scarred/ Standing silent in the rain,” she sings. This is a lonely world of isolation and disenchantment. We’re suffering, but we’re suffering alone. “It’s cold, it’s cold, it’s cold as hell/ Wrap your arms around yourself,” Fortune adds.
“Hether is the voice. It’s the tool of communication in music that universal. Since Hether and I started collaborating to write music, this was the first time I was really pushing her to do things and face things that were uncomfortable,” Peter Lightning says. “I was twisting Hether’s arm, being like, ‘Hether, if you want to be a better writer you should let me read your lyrics.’ But I think it helped all of us. It helped me understand what Hether was writing, and we also got improvements out of the work by revising it together. I think the lyrical content is really strong,” he adds. “It’s definitely a gradual progression. Thematically, I think we nailed it, which is really exciting,” Rachel Travers includes.
“Mausoleum” is a bouncy take on the terrifying spectre coming for every single one of us. The music is shaped by a minimalistic play between drums and bass, the former chugging along effortlessly while the bass takes on a rubberised form and fits itself nicely into the drum pocket. “I’m a walking mausoleum,” Fortune sings. “I’ve organised my grief by numbers/ Would you like to come inside?”
Happy Ending takes the styles the band hinted at on previous records, and blows them out to in maximal expansiveness, reaching for triumphant declarations on loss and recovery without ever losing the slimy edge that made their music so intoxicating in the first place. On Happy Ending, the band seems to be railing against both this broken nation and the tragedy that changed their world, all in live time. It’s a constant process of rehabilitation and healing, and their blend of the personal with the familiar allows for the band’s audience to follow along as it unfolds.
“I felt catharsis, specifically when we finished certain songs and performed them live,” Lightning explains. “It’s hard to not talk about the tragedies, but using art as a way of confronting your feelings and dealing with them has been the most positive way I’ve dealt with any problem I’ve ever had,” he adds. “I’m not very endowed with a lot of healthy coping mechanisms,” Travers includes with a laugh. “Having everything on the album come into fruition and hearing it in its completed, mastered state, was one of the most cathartic, satisfying moments of my life.”
Happy Ending ends with “Missed Call,” a rousing ballad drenched in reverb and lightly strummed electric guitar and a reflective Fortune. “You always said I think too much, well, I guess you were right/ but this ain't a conversation, love, is just one more goodbye,” she sings before an extremely brief pause that seems to last forever. It’s a goodbye, a remembrance, and a story recalled with a smile bursting through the tears as the intimate details squeak through.
“We really pushed ourselves in every possible way: musically, emotionally, financially, energetically...Our only real hope is that people will just let it into their lives and into their hearts. If it affects them, if it moves them, if they relate to it...Mission accomplished. We’ve given something to the world,” Heather Fortune says. With the album complete, Wax Idols haven’t quite turned the album’s title from a cynical joke into a statement of intent. There’s still no happy ending to be found, but such a hope isn’t quite so far off anymore.
Stream Happy Ending by Wax Idols below and pre-order it here.
Do you live in Oakland? Wax Idols will host a listening event for Happy Ending at 1-2-3-4 Go! Records on 16 May from 8 PM to 11 PM.
Wax Idols Tour Dates:
06.01 - Sacramento, CA @ Red Museum ^
06.02 - Reno, NV @ The Holland Project ^
06.04 - Boise, ID @ Neurolux ^
06.06 - Vancouver, B.C. @ The Red Room ^
06.07 - Seattle, WA @ Barboza %
06.08 - Olympia, WA @ Cryptatropa >#/span###
06.09 - Portland, OR @ Tonic Lounge %
06.15 - Oakland, CA @ Eli's Mile High Club #
06.16 - Los Angeles, CA @ The Hi Hat #
7.20 - McAllen, TX $
7.21 - Monterrey, MX $
7.22 - Gomez Palacio, MX $
7.25 - San Luis Potosi, MX $
7.26 - Zacatecas, MX $
7.27 - Guadalajara, MX $
7.28 - Mexico City, MX $
8.31 - Brooklyn, NY @ Elsewhere *
9.1 - Philadelphia, PA @ PhilaMOCA *
9.2 - Washington D.C @ Songbyrd *
9.3 - Baltimore, MD @ Metro Gallery &
9.4 - Richmond, VA @ Strange Matter &
9.5 - Chapel Hill, NC @ Local 506 &
9.6 - Atlanta, GA @ The Earl &
9.7 - Nashville, TN @ TBD &
9.8 - Indianapolis @ Pioneer & (+ Spandrels)
9.9 - Chicago, IL @ The Empty Bottle & (+ Ganser)
9.11 - Detroit, MI @ Marble Bar & (+ Ghost Realms)
9.12 - Cleveland, OH @ TBD &
9.14 - 9.16 | Basilica Soundscape
^ with Screature
% with Screature & Dead Spells
# with Houses of Heaven & Foie Gras
$ with SRSQ
* with Planning For Burial & Shadow Age
& with Shadow Age
This article originally appeared on Noisey US.