Pale Waves – My Mind Makes Noises

A glorious coronation, plain and simple.
Label: Dirty Hit
Released: 14th September 2018
Rating: ★★★★★

Once in a blue moon, a band takes off with such velocity that all doubts feel futile. With less of a ‘will they, won’t they’ and more of a ‘clear the way’, the only risk in Pale Waves’ glorious ascent has long been that they might burn up as they smash through the planet’s atmosphere on their way to conquer the known universe. ‘My Mind Makes Noises’ doesn’t arrive with trepidation. It isn’t even a promise of potential for what’s to come. It’s a glorious coronation, plain and simple.

Sure, there have been barbs thrown across Pale Waves’ path along the way. From accusations of samey songwriting to lazy comparisons with label mates and sort-of-once-mentors The 1975, in the cold light of their neon glow each fails to convincingly land. Indeed, it’s only those parallels with indie-pop’s most hype-worthy band which come close to the mark, if only because they’re heading for the same arenas. Nothing has ever seemed surer.

This isn’t a ticker tape parade based purely on industry sure-thing status, though. ‘My Mind Makes Noises’ is a record of such assured confidence it belies just how raw Pale Waves still are. Over the past twelve months, they’re a band who have evolved in front of our eyes, turning from a good live act to a strutting, ultra-confident triple threat. Matched to the freshness of their inherent buzz-worthiness, it’s easily one of the strongest pop albums in recent memory.

Because that’s what this is – capital letters, unashamed Pop Music in its purest form. Like all the best iterations of the art form, it’s instantly traceable to its creators. That trademark sound – the shimmer, lilted vocal takes and glitter ball drama – is a fearsomely effective calling card. No matter how it’s applied, each and every track could only ever belong to one band. From the stop-start atmospherics of ‘Black’ to the runway takeoff of opener ‘Eighteen’, fizzing with wide-eyed possibilities of what’s to come, the template shifts but the filter remains fixed. Far from a criticism, it’s what makes ‘My Mind Makes Noises’ as a body of work so unfathomably strong – the canvas which allows a galaxy of shiny stars to beam. Those initial tasters of what’s to come ‘There’s A Honey’ and ‘Television Romance’ feel as invincible as ever, already wearing the garbs of future classics well, while ‘Kiss’ is built on the fumes of 80s hairspray and sticky-floored indie clubs.

It’s not just the songs we’ve already heard that stand out though, far from it. One of those rare records where almost every track feels like a potential smash hit, the roster of potential game changers runs long. ‘Loveless Girl’ and ‘Came In Close’ both feel stuffed with their own zesty vigour, but it’s ‘Red’ that steals the show. Equal parts Taylor Swift megabanger and full-pelt pneumatic drill, it goes in hard enough to crumble buildings. As a marker of Pale Waves’ raw ambition, nothing else comes close.

For all the polished perfection, though, there are three tracks that underpin a debut with genuine emotion too. Sort-of-title-track ‘Noises’ appears early, its honesty bringing the barriers down in a disarming admission that connects all the dots. It plays spectacularly against the record’s true beating heart, ‘Drive’. Running on fight or flight adrenaline, it’s the counterpart which opens up new worlds – choosing to push onwards and upwards rather than look down at the fall below. As a shorthand for Pale Waves’ unstoppable rise, it’s note perfect.

It’s ‘Karl (I Wonder What It’s Like To Die)’ that will do the damage, though. Featuring frontwoman Heather Baron-Gracie and a single acoustic guitar, it’s a track so raw that – against the sheen of the album around it – genuinely shocks. Lyrically both intimately heart-warming and utterly devastating, it’s never mawkish or trite. Less a closing track, it’s more a full-stop – the only way to slam the breaks on a record that otherwise might keep throwing out bangers until the end of time.

‘My Mind Makes Noises’ isn’t a grand concept album. It’s not challenging the bleeding edge, or attempting to make huge statements about the world around it. It’s a personal document on a grand scale – a collection of doubts and dreams exploding onto the biggest possible stage. Staggeringly effective at what it sets out to achieve, its greatest strength comes in never trying to be something it isn’t. In understanding exactly who they are, Pale Waves just broke orbit. Next stop – anywhere.

Stephen Ackroyd

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