There’s been a fair amount of chat recently about the ‘’90s revival’ we’re supposedly having at the moment. Kids everywhere are donning indecent levels of tartan ‘n’ tie-dye while raving on about Nirvana’s debut album Bleach as if to prove they’re not just Nevermind-owning bandwagon-jumpers. But behind all the velvet scrunchies and Big Muff distortion pedals, an earlier point in music is having its own moment – albeit a less attention-grabbing one. Bands like Savages, Holograms and The Soft Moon are taking their cues from the darker side of ’80s post-punk, running wild with their flanger pedals and old-skool drum and synth sounds to create music with the sinister, echoing melodies of The Cure and Joy Division.
The phenomenon seems to be largely centred on the UK and Scandinavia, but isn’t restricted there by any means: Wax Idols are, like the aforementioned Soft Moon, a Californian band who don’t quite fit the current Californian band stereotype. The clothes are black rather than beachy, the music noisy and uptight rather than sunny and laid-back. Wax Idols’ frontwoman and main creative force Hether Fortune is an ex-member of Hunx And His Punx and was close to the late Jay Reatard, so it’s perhaps not surprising that the band’s 2011 debut No Future was a pretty garagey affair. Since then, though Wax Idols seem to have found their calling; follow-up record, Discipline + Desire, sees the band stripping away their earlier, brattier elements to fully reveal the moody core of their music – much like fellow dark-hearts Girls Names, whose second record The New Life was an atmospheric post-punk revelation after a more lighthearted surf-rock debut.
Discipline + Desire’s lead single Sound Of A Void implores the listener to ‘turn down the static world, listen to the sound of a void’, which could be a manifesto for the album as a whole. It’s an unsettling record to listen to, with opening track Stare Back setting the tone from the off. It fades into existence in a buzz of swirling, unidentifiable noise before a punchy, ominous bassline kicks in, almost like a gothic take on Duran Duran’s Rio; Fortune’s double-tracked, chanted vocals collide discordantly with one another and dissolve into hysterical laughter as they’re swamped by a wash of guitar haze. Sound Of A Void follows, its densely textured wall of sound punctuated by crisp drumbeats and a repetitive, rubbery guitar hook that scrapes uncomfortably against Fortune’s haunting, drawn-out syllables.
In Fortune, Wax Idols have a Siouxsie Sioux for the 2010s: her voice has that same theatrical and yet freezingly cool quality, echoing epically over the mix as though recorded in a mountain pass. Her lyrics are almost uniformly dark – Cartoonist inspired by a man who killed his wife and then himself, AD RE IAN by the suicides of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis and The Sound’s Adrian Borland – and are made more disconcerting by the metallic-tinged harmonies that wrap around the whole album, her voice sometimes blending into the music and at other times becoming a sharp point of focus.
With its emphasis on atmosphere over hooks, the 10 songs on Discipline + Desire could run the risk of all merging into something colourless and barren-sounding – after all, there’s only so much you can do with a board full of pedals and a fondness for dissonant minor chords. Luckily, there’s enough energy imparted by the snappy drums and darkly driving basslines to keep it interesting, giving structure to the more ethereal elements without overpowering them. If the thought of trawling through the ’90s again leaves you cold, pop this on and party like it’s 1980.