“Severely Yours” makes a great title for the twisted love songs on Wax Idols’ new American Tragic. Where goth-punk goddess Hether Fortune is concerned, “severely” is guaranteed—but don’t get too sure about “yours.” She’s charismatic enough to peel paint off a passing car, and the third album from her Bay Area one-woman band Wax Idols is where she comes into her own musically: late-night death-disco break-up songs, from an alternate timeline where the Siouxsie of 1985 jams with the Banshees of 1981.
Although Fortune played bass for a while in the excellent punk combo White Lung, the sound of American Tragic is new-wave gloss. The songs draw on raw emotional experience, from divorce and romantic disillusionment to her years as a dominatrix, as in the let-the-power-fall dynamics of “Deborah” or “At Any Moment.” Her vocals are in low-end ice mode, especially in the New Order-like “Goodbye Baby,” where she shrugs, “You can call me evil/You won’t be the only one.” But even when she’s suffering from love pains, she comes across as a tough customer, to say the least. (At a White Lung gig last year I saw her throw down her bass, lunge into the crowd to grab a heckler by the throat, drag his extremely kicked ass outside to the sidewalk and then jump back onstage in time to finish the song. Rock & roll!) The high point: “Lonely You,” where Fortune sings about how the “full-lipped lusting” of sexual obsession turns into just another round of heartbreak, letting her gorgeous Pale Saints-like shoegaze guitar tell both sides of the story.