Addictive melodies in a new sonic palette
Dillon Eastoe
12:24 8th February 2021

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Emerging from a burgeoning Manchester scene and taken under the wing of pop titans The 1975 after signing for Dirty Hit records, Pale Waves more than shouldered the weight of the expectation the nature of their discovery came with on their 2018 debut album My Mind Makes Noises. Packed with big singles and mainlining pure pop melodies, their mentors’ fingerprints were there to hear in the shimmering guitars and synths casting an 80s fog over Heather Baron-Gracie’s instantly recognisable vocals.

The tunes were undeniable and the diaristic lyrics instantly memorisable, but there were question marks over how Pale Waves might progress from such a polished and slick debut. The answer comes in the form of another question;: new record Who Am I? is a confident step forward that retains the core of Baron-Gracie and drummer Ciara Doran’s songwriting while furnishing their addictive melodies in a new sonic palette. 

Out go the vintage synths and dry ice, in come 12-string acoustics, retro-90s drum flourishes and singer-songwriter production. The band have touted Avril Lavigne as an influence, one which is undeniable in singles ‘Change’ and the brash, joyous riot of ‘You Don’t Own Me’. The latter showcases a harder edge with power chords chugging alongside frenzied drumming as Heather delivers a manifesto of female empowerment. It feels no coincidence that these more outspoken lyrics, as in frantic pop-punk of the LGBTQ+ acceptance anthem ‘Tomorrow’, have the biggest impact.

Less forceful but equally impressive are the more restrained arrangements. ‘She’s My Religion’ is a dark meditation on devotion that swirls in haunting melodies, ‘Wish U Were Here’ is delightfully turn-of-the-century with answer-phone messages clipping in and out of guitar arpeggios. Lyrically, Heather remains deeply personal, exploring her own struggles with sexual identity, while offering her experiences as a rallying cry to her fans and her community. There’s still room however for Waves’ catchiest ever straight up love song though. ‘Easy’ is an earworm of the highest order that lingers on and on and will be a moment of euphoria when the band eventually take the stage once more.

On their first record the quartet spoiled us with a generous fourteen tracks but the similarities of the arrangements had some verses smudging into one another. On Who Am I? Heather, Ciara, guitarist Hugo Silvani and bassist Charlie Wood showcase all they’ve learnt since then, with more dynamic production and diverse stylistic choices. Closing the record with a lighters-in-the-air piano ballad , the title track affirms a band that have broken through some of the constraints that had begun to form around them while managing to hold on to their ear for a hook.

Offering a musical love letter to the sounds of their youth and a torch for the queer youth, Pale Waves may not be the most original, inventive band in the world, but these songs are timeless; ‘Who Am I?’ could have come out at any point in the last 25 years and hit just as hard. Being recorded remotely by members dialling in from either side of the Atlantic has perhaps strengthened the band’s focus as Pale Waves strip back the atmospherics, dial up the physical instruments and reach out further than anything they’ve written before.

Who Am I? arrives 12 February via Dirty Hit. 

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