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Wax Idols, ‘Discipline & Desire’ – Album Review

The difference between drawing inspiration from and flat-out mimicking other artists has been a topic of discussion for music fans and critics for centuries. Brahms notably referenced other composers, including Beethoven, and was called a plagiarizer by some, and in rock music, originality seems to be more of an issue than ever. Trouble is, there’s no clear line regarding how much it’s acceptable to borrow from influences, or how much innovation is required for a new act to be credited with creating a new sound.

Within the first few seconds of ‘Discipline & Desire,’ their second album, Bay Area foursome Wax Idols reveal their familiarity with darkwave, as well as Bauhaus (the bass line) and the Slits (the vocals). But once the song loses its structure and the band jams out the ending, they stake out their own sonic territory. The sheer strength these ladies harness gives ‘Discipline & Desire’ its modern touch.

Sure, the album has its predictable moments, such as the New Wave-style ‘When It Happens’ and the ‘Policy of Truth’-meets-’The Lost Boys’ vibe of ‘Scent of Love.’ And Siouxsie Sioux hovers over the collection as an overarching guiding light. But on the album’s more original and rewarding numbers, such as ‘AD RE:IAN,’ singer and primary songwriter Hether Fortune showcases her strongest gift: a talent for synthesis.

The pleasure of listening to Wax Idols lies in the fact that even though they’re a cyclone of fairly common influences — punk, post-punk, New Wave, darkwave and even some more contemporary indie fare — the blending of these results in a voice that can be captivating. Often, singular melodic choices — like Fortune’s extended pronunciation of “tonight” in ‘Cartoonist’ — determine how a song lands — and tell you whether your dancing should involve slamming into other people.

Indeed, Fortune is a natural at crafting hooks, and even if Wax Idols let this album go a couple songs too far, we’re left to wonder how music so steeped in past sounds can wind up seeming fresh. The title might offer a clue to the answer.

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