I couldn’t tell you that I was turned-on by the idea of Pale Waves when I first heard them on their All The Things I Never Said EP in the winter. What can I say? Call me a fool. I just didn’t hear a way in.
But then I thumbed through their cover feature in the August issue of Dork Magazine and saw how incredible Pale Waves singer Heather Baron-Gracie appears in goth get-up on a full page spread – oxblood eyeshadow, scrunched black hair, tattoos up her arms, crucifixes hanging from her ears. Insert epiphany here.
Observing a singer that looked like post apocalyptic Joan Jett, thereby receiving a fresh context for the Pale Waves vision as conceived half a decade ago – by Baron-Gracie herself and the similarly fashionable drummer Ciara Doran during late student nights at Manchester University – I decided it would be a wise move to review my presumptions for a moment and listen.
Having now heard their debut album My Mind Makes Noises, it’s clear that this decision was not misplaced. Due to its production value alone the LP is a humbling prospect. With a sound that infuses the pop-sheen of Taylor Swift with the melancholic riff philosophy of the Cure that wrote ‘Just Like Heaven’, each and every instrument is injected with an immeasurable largeness: guitars and drums reverberate through canyons while synthesisers seem plugged right into the National Grid.
Everything is intense. If Baron-Gracie’s not mourning a doomed romance, then she’s venting painful yet very real insecurities about her identity and mental health. There’s crying in bedrooms, staring at naked reflections of oneself in the mirror, and whole shit-heaps of extreme yet sobering moments besides in this crushingly honest journey of adolescent self-discovery. “I’m not changing, I’m just waiting to figure myself out”, she sings on ‘Black’, another narrative of failed relationships breeding self-doubt.
This tender mood is consistent and insistent throughout MMNN. Thematically, and musically, the album as a whole comes to resemble a singular homogenised mass of dance-pop feverishness , unceasingly renewing it’s fuel-loads for maximum thrust. Take, ‘Noises’, the unofficial title track. Baron-Gracie is desperately confessing, “I’m afraid I need help”, and the track has a huge ending. Then ‘Came in Close’ steams in more huge, and there’s more passion, tears, intensity, and so on.
If you’re bold enough to sit through the 50 minutes of MMMN from start to finish, then, I’m telling you, be prepared. Pale Waves play all of pop’s ‘euphoria’ cards all the time, in every song – quiet bit, loud bit, fat chorus; suspenseful build than astronomic pay-off; gorgeous riff before the climax to boost us even higher. There’s crushing ballads, (‘When did I lose it all?’, ‘She’), and brace-yourself bangers, (There’s a Honey’, ‘Came in Close’, ‘One More Time’). So much of MMMN is so stimulating and emotionally raw that by the end of the fourteenth track – ‘Karl (I Wonder What’s It’s Like to Die)’ , a haunting ballad on the death of Baron-Gracie’s grandfather, no less – I’m exhausted, frantically grasping for anything that’s loose and lo-fi as essential tonic to this tragic universe.
And yet, I’m never bored. MMMN is compelling, exciting and, above all, a mission statement. It’s Pale Waves finding their formulas and clinging to them proudly. For a debut album, you couldn’t have asked for a clearer vision than this. I’ll be damned if I weren’t paying attention.