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Album Review: Pale Waves, “My Mind Makes Noises”

 

From the first line of their debut record, My Mind Makes Noises,  Pale Waves encapsulates what has made their music irresistible since their initial releases. “This city depresses me,” Heather Baron-Gracie laments following a joint guitar and synth intro worthy of opening an ‘80s-era arena rock number. Pale Waves makes pop music about true emotions–often negative or uncomfortable ones–juxtaposed with ‘80s synth pop-inspired, effervescent and infectious melodies. Joined by the band’s co-founder and drummer Ciara Doran, guitarist Hugo Silvani, and bassist Charlie Wood, Baron-Gracie details her most intimate interactions with current and former lovers, friends, and herself, hence the album’s title.

photo by Brian Griffin

Pale Waves has been making noises from Manchester, England to the U.S. since their first single release in 2017, “There’s A Honey.” The song was instant power pop perfection, produced by the 1975’s Matty Healy and George Daniel, who also brought the band on tour with them last summer. This sparked comparisons between the two British pop bands, debunked by Pale Waves’ first EP, ALL THE THINGS I NEVER SAID and their full-length debut. Both works convey the obvious influences of The Cure and Madonna on tracks like “Kiss,”  but also show an awareness of early aughts pop, drawing from the autotune-infused chorus of Hellogoodbye’s “Here (In Your Arms)” on “Eighteen” and the emo-tional lyricism of pop punk acts like Hawthorne Heights and Dashboard Confessional on tracks like “When Did I Lose It All” and “One More Time.”

The most common (and valid) criticism of Pale Waves is the similarity of their songs, particularly the first two singles they ever released, “There’s A Honey” and “Television Romance,” which are both included on this LP. It seems that Pale Waves have found a songwriting formula: elongated synths, a wonky bassline, gated drum, slinky guitar solos, and an explosive chorus, usually consisting of one lyrical refrain. While these characteristics are evident on most tracks on Noises (The exception is the heart-wrenching acoustic ballad, “Karl”), they work as a common, upbeat backdrop for Baron-Gracie to share some of her most personal, heartbreaking stories. If the formula for an addictive pop song ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  

What makes Baron-Gracie’s musical narratives so touching is her willingness to be vulnerable in her insecurities and uncertainties. She asks a question in nearly every song on Noises, and she hardly ever receives an answer, not that she’s optimistic enough to expect one. “Is it really me that you want?” she wonders on “Came In Close,” unsure of how to make the first move to push a relationship forward. On “Drive,” she has an anxiety-filled inner monologue, desperately seeking the answer to “Is it all in my head?” Perhaps the album’s most relatable track is “Noises”, when Baron-Gracie admits poor self esteem over her appearance and impression over others, pleading, “What do you see when you look at me? I can’t control my emotions lately.” Heather Baron-Gracie and Pale Waves are generous enough to share their many problems and questions, but where they lack in solutions and answers, they make up for in an excellent ‘80s pop backing track.

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