Pale Waves cranks up the voltage until its equipment sizzles.
The slick goth-pop sound beating at the heart of Pale Waves’ debut single “There’s a Honey” earned the Mancunian band multiple slots in Band to Watch features, including BBC Music Sound of 2018. The band’s chromatic sound and all-black-everything aesthetic already have plenty of contemporaries. There’s no need to look further than its label Dirty Hit, home to The 1975 and Wolf Alice, before tracing its New Wave roots. And the band’s debut full-length, My Mind Makes Noises, continues to lean heavily upon its inspirations to establish its sound. However, Pale Waves defines a solid enough voice to suggest the band’s appeal may be deeper than the surface.
“There’s a Honey” provides a detailed overview of what could be heard throughout the album. Big machine drums boom with echo, and glittered synths decorate the song’s love-sick stories with starry-eyed softness. Plenty of flowery riffs are featured, and the distortion on the electric guitars often rings hot to the touch. Pale Wave’s core aesthetic resembles a finely curated teen-romance soundtrack, and the band’s music also unfolds cinematically with the music all in service to blow up private feelings into larger-than-life proportions.
The romances in the songs of My Mind Makes Noises are written and sung by guitarist Heather Baron-Gracie, who mostly paints the picture with broad strokes made up of easy rhymes and immediate melodies. Dwelling into the personal doesn’t matter for her songs as much as capturing the overall feeling, especially as they’re propped up by such a towering production. The spiked music of “Drive” sounds as exhilarating as it does dizzying to reflect the disorienting rush felt by Baron-Gracie, who’s trying to shake off her own numbness by speeding her car off to nowhere.
She shares specifics in regards to the main characters here and there. “Loveless Girl” is the most extensive storytelling exercise from her as she fills a return of an old friend/crush with a charming history and physical details straight out of a teen novel. “Red” doesn’t reach as deep, but it’s only due to her intentions from the bar-side encounter being deliberately shallow. A casual yet sincere gesture like “doing impressions of each other” becomes that much more precious in such a scenario.
The most grappling moments come from private remarks that Baron-Gracie tosses off as an aside. “There’s a Honey” built its chorus around a simple yet provocative question from her internal monologue, which dealt with whether or not she should trust another with her body during a drunken fling. “Red” echoes a similar melodramatic sentiment as a hint of horror creeps in the chorus expressing the potential of regret: “Slow down, baby/ Are we going to make it out alive?” The feedback from the throbbing synths as well as the searing guitar riff further casts a sinister shadow to the colorful pop-punk.
Pale Waves cranks up the voltage until its equipment sizzles, and Baron-Gracie shouts loud as she can to get her point across. Yet the messages of My Mind Makes Noises feel as though they don’t make it past the singer’s lips. The cavernous production lets the music echo like voices in her head while the soft synths touch up the songs with a dream-like effect. Intense desires wrestle with insecurity and shyness in the same space, so it’s fitting that memorable hooks float throughout the record in the form of questions or wishes she hopes would come true.
While Baron-Gracie knows how to turn internal monologues about desire into resonant pop songs, she spreads this format a little too thin throughout the album’s 14-song track list. The consistency of its goth-pop sound doesn’t help diversify the experience. That said, tracks like “Red” and “Loveless Girl” tease her ability to write compelling narratives beyond her own thoughts. Pale Waves has its general aesthetic down to a T in My Mind Makes Noises while leaving a few potential avenues to explore later.