Writing all these year-end posts inevitably makes me confront the reasons I like all these albums over others. The word I find myself wanting to use in virtually every post — especially now, near the top — is “complete.” My favorite albums feel like they’re accomplishing exactly what the artist intended and are a fully realized vision (I’ve been using “vision” a lot, too).
American Tragic is an album that feels very complete to me. The band is mostly a one-woman show, with Hether Fortune doing everything but the drums, and the album is powered entirely by her sensibilities, her songwriting, and her charisma. A new-found emphasis on production gives American Tragic its crystalline gothic rock sound, while Fortune channels the feelings of a recent divorce into lyrics that are often about the intersection of love and pain. The way all these elements complement each other makes American Tragic one of the most compelling rock albums of the year.
Despite the heartbreak that went into the album, American Tragic remains remarkably nuanced, avoiding the kind of self-pity and blaming we’ve come to expect from the post-breakup album. Fortune touches on loneliness and grief, but her performance has a steely resolve, a refusal to let any of those feelings define who she is.
Fortune is very different from most rock front-people, and her personality and her refusal to conform to expectations is what makes this album consistently exciting. She can also really write a hook, and American Tragic has some surprisingly poppy moments, like “Lonely You” and “Severely Yours.” Those two songs, in different ways, explain how sometimes love can hurt.