For Fans Of
Pale Waves sit between the worlds of goth aesthetic, post-punk, 80s new wave, alternative, and synth-pop. More or less sitting between the sounds of Paramore’s last album, Halsey, The Cure, and labelmates, The 1975. These are the key ingredients as to why the English group has recently struck notable success. This solid mixture of alt-pop trends, moody yet emotional honesty, solid 80s nostalgia, plenty of huge hooks, and having their good friends in The 1975 mentor them as they took steps towards their debut singles in 2017. (Because comparisons between both of those bands totally aren’t over-played). However, with their debut LP, ‘My Mind Makes Noises‘, it was high time for Pale Waves to step out on their own and prove their worth. In that regard, for the most part, there are very few stumbles as the four-piece craft a confident stride over 14 tracks with a love for glossy, synth-heavy, indie-pop tunes.
Of course, a lot of this debut record is Pale Waves simply doing what they’ve come to be known for off the back of launch singles ‘There’s A Honey‘ and ‘Television Romance‘. (Also, this album’s role out, in having seven singles before the thing was actually released, is just so weird to me. That’s half the damn album out before actual release!) In some ways, you can almost tell it’s their debut album without knowing anything about the band, just by how it falls right into their comfortable formula. There aren’t any exactly identical songs here per say, but some tracks do feel eerily similar to one another. Ergo, if you’re familiar enough with those two aforementioned singles, and you heard their 2018 stop-gap EP, ‘All The Things I Never Said‘, then this LP follows the same path with its tones, lyrical motifs, songwriting and melodic structure. The bright, chirpy guitar lines; the simplistic 4/4 drums, linear beats and sixteenth-note hi-hat grooves; the dancing bass grooves; that cool-yet-lethargic-and-emotional vocal delivery from frontwoman Heather Baron-Gracie; the layers of synths. All of the group’s trademarks are here, with ‘My Mind Makes Noises‘ bleeding its heart out for listeners to sing, dance and cry along too.
Aside from a few varied moments, ‘My Mind Makes Noises‘ is definitely repetitive in sound, but it never becomes too monotonous. On top of that, while Pale Waves aren’t musically an original band – come on, let’s call a spade a spade – that’s not really an issue. As utter jams like the gloomy post-punk haze of ‘Kiss‘ show, they do this style very well; having poppy chorus melodies and ’80s throwbacks to match, whilst showing potential to grow from this first outing. (Which will be the most interesting thing about them: whether they stay within this one lane or evolve out of it naturally with future records). But my god, this album is polished within an inch of its fucking life. While I do enjoy the chorus-driven ride that this record offers, it seems like a lot of the “soul” in the band’s playing has been washed out to some degree. I totally understand their aesthetic and why the production of ‘My Mind Makes Noises‘ is the way it is, but it definitely won’t win over any people who have a very harsh opinion of pop-centric music such as this.
Honestly? I think it’s quite gross how some reviews of this record reduce it down to mere “fangirldom”. Implying that “real” music lovers would never debase themselves with poppy records such as this, generalising it as over-dramatic teenage girl drama. However, if you actually pay attention whilst putting snobbery aside, Heather touches upon plenty poignant themes and universal experiences across ‘My Mind Makes Noises‘. Sure, the infectious ‘Came In Close‘, written about wanting to be more than friends but knowing that this fling will end soon, does feel a little adolescent. Sure, album opener ‘Eighteen‘, about falling in love at the end of your teens and feeling like you can take on the world, is sorta cheesy. Sure, the yearning discussions of love gone awry during ‘One More Time‘ and romanticising last minute decisions and how the little things our lovers do make us weak is saccharine. Yet these songs do not fully define the wider record’s tone and lyrics topically nor are they write-offs either.
The catchy, smoothed-out and reverberant ‘Noises‘ – from where the record’s full title derives from – sees Heather battling anxiety and her up-and-down emotional stability. The chorus says it all: “What do you see when you look at me?/I can’t control my emotions lately“. Elsewhere, the well-done distorted electro-swirls and bold major guitar leads of ‘Red‘, written “about an American girl” as the singer once put it, tells of a relationship – just a friendship or otherwise, I’m not sure – that could never really work. Despite both parties clearly wanting it all to go further and reminiscing of their time spent together.
The key lyric of ‘Where Did I Lose It All?‘ is in the chorus with “I wanna marry you, but not now, not now“. That’s something most long-term couples experience; that crossroads between either continuing along or having the courage to take that next step; that pain of having to say no because you know now is not the right time for the rings to be slipped onto fingers. This isn’t exclusive to teenagers, but for most people’s love-life at some point. With atmospherics chords and sparse beats, the dynamic change-up that is ‘She‘ is a painful tale about realising you’re being lied to and cheated on; that you know your partner is “getting off with somebody else“, wondering how they could stop loving you so abruptly. Cheating isn’t something that only teenagers do. It’s something grown-ass adults do as well, horribly enough. And it’s shitty in all cases. Either way, this track is about the brutal blow to one’s self-worth unfaithfulness dolls out and then recovering from it. Just as Heather’s lyrics paint for us all in the song.
So many of these topics aren’t exclusive to the experiences of men and women, of boys and girls, but also aren’t exclusive to angsty world-hating teens either. The perfect example of this comes with the album’s true emotional peak, which is without a doubt, ‘Karl (I Wonder What It’s Like To Die)‘; a song about personal grief and mourning. This closer’s minimal acoustic setting allows the vocals to take centre stage, making the lyrics all the more cutting. The ‘Karl’ in this story is either an uncle or grandfather figure, and how their bereavement significantly affected the Pale Waves leader (“you’re on my mind all of the time“), but also her family members too (“It was Christmas day when my mum found you/She puts on a brave face, but I can see right through“). The parathesis of this song title isn’t the band trying to win over edgy Tumblr obsessives. It’s reflective of moments we all go through when we lose loved ones and start to think harder about our own mortality, about our own end. This closing piece all hits harder because of that.
What I first loved about Pale Waves is all over their debut LP. While somewhat repetitive and too over-polished sounding at times, there are still some essential synth-driven indie-pop bangers to be found across the album’s neon skin. More than that, ‘My Mind Makes Noises’ sees Heather Baron-Gracie bare so much of her life and inner emotions; more so than ever before. That mixing of heavily synthesised alt-pop and ’80s nostalgia with bitingly personal and honest tellings is what will do Pale Waves well moving forward. Yet it’s the added dynamic that great tracks like ‘Karl (I Wonder What It’s Like To Die)’, ‘Noises’, ‘She’, ‘Where Did I Lose It All’ and ‘Red’ bring where the band divulges their most interesting qualities. And I sincerely hope they don’t become too complacent in the huge singles that this debut’s no doubt spawned.
- There’s A Honey
- Came In Close
- Loveless Girl
- When Did I Lose It All
- One More Time
- Television Romance
- Karl (I Wonder What It’s Like To Die)
‘My Mind Makes Noises’ is out now.