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Album Review: Pales Waves – My Mind Makes Noises

After nearly a year and a half of touring and teasing us with tantalizingly catchy single releases, Manchester indie-pop quartet Pale Waves have released their debut album My Mind Makes Noises. Pale Waves first splashed onto the larger music scene in 2017, signing to Dirty Hit and supporting The 1975 on their North American tour, where it was clear they were something special. Sitting somewhere between Taylor Swift and The Cure, Pale Waves have made a name for themselves with a refreshing resurgence of 80s-infused, gloomy indie-pop. The past year has been nothing short of a whirlwind for the young Brits, featuring multiple headlining slots across Europe and the US, a spring tour, and a positively stacked summer festival season; all this with only a handful of singles and unreleased tracks. With the release of My Mind Makes Noises, Pale Waves demonstrate loud and clear that they’re just getting started.

Lead track off the album is “Eighteen,” a previously released single that glitters with the gauzy nostalgia of young love. Vocalist and lead songwriter for the band Heather Baron-Gracie flexes her impressive ability to capture timeless emotions with simple yet evocative language: “we sat on the corner kissing each other/felt like I could finally see in color,” situating “Eighteen” as a fitting introduction for a pop album with real heart.

Though it’s been out for several months, “Noises” is one of the album’s stunners. Painstakingly produced, “Noises” delivers everything we know and love from Pale Waves: shimmering synth, anthemic vocals, and irresistible guitar riffs. Add that to Baron-Gracie’s knack for searingly authentic (at times almost uncomfortably so: “I look at myself, see what I hate, create an illusion to melt your brain”) lyrics, and “Noises” is a one-two punch of seamless pop and heartfelt poetry.

My Mind Makes Noises then dives deep into its hotly anticipated unreleased tracks. “Came In Close” is sparkly and upbeat, chronicling a secret “are we, aren’t we?” relationship. The repeated refrain “I don’t wanna be just your friend/but I know that this is gonna end” is simple yet relatable, one of Pale Waves particular strengths. “Loveless Girl” branches away from Pale Waves as we’ve previously seen them with a motif of choppy, electronic vocals. Baron-Gracie allows us another look into her past as her lyrics struggle to reconcile if a failed relationship could have ever succeeded while simultaneously knowing that it was doomed from the start.

From a similar vein to “Noises” is “Drive,” an all-too-relatable look at the isolation of mental health struggles. Baron-Gracie questions her own experience, wondering “is it all in my head?” Between choruses, biting guitar contrasts with bubbly synth for a sound that is unmistakably Pale Waves. The repeated line “I drive fast so I can feel something” ends the track, reflecting the lyrical sense of hopelessness in contrast to the lively sound.

Though Pale Waves bring forth an undeniably buoyant sound, true love seems to evade their lyrics. “She” is a particularly cutting reproach of an unfaithful partner, as nuanced as it is stinging. Sonically, “She” is atmospheric and cinematic, restrained until the last minute, opening up with a whining guitar solo. Baron-Gracie does not hold back with these lyrics, transitioning from melancholy to brutal: “I’m just staring at myself/you weren’t satisfied enough so you fucked somebody else.” Though somberly melodic, “She” pulls no punches, resulting in an impressively subtle catharsis for a scorned lover.

The back third of the album is largely previously released favorites, and we’re not complaining. Breakout single “Television Romance” is remastered, a treat for longtime fans. The cheeky track is an eyeroll of a song, the lyrical equivalent of “nice try, but it ain’t gonna happen.” Pale Waves’ inspiration The Cure is evident in “Kiss,” with bittersweet lyrics and an expansive, plucky musical arrangement.

For all its goth-pop, highly danceable tracks, the true gem of My Mind Makes Noises is heartfelt ballad “Karl (I Wonder What It’s Like To Die)”. Accompanied by only an acoustic guitar, Baron-Gracie’s vocals echo hauntingly in this incredibly raw, mournful song. The lyrics lament the loss of Baron-Gracie’s grandfather, an intimate look into her grief. She does not shy away from specific language in her lyrics, detailing “It was Christmas day when my mom found you.” Despite such personal lyrics, the song is a deeply evocative song for all who listen. On such a heavily produced album, “Karl” is both abrupt and fortifying in its minimalism. Where “Eighteen” introduces Pale Waves at their most effervescent, “Karl” strips the band down to its essence: pristine melodies and strikingly poignant words.

To live up to the hype, Pale Waves faced a tall order. Their ascension to the forefront of the indie world has been unrelenting, and with My Mind Makes Noises, they prove their reign is well-deserved. Equal parts plaintive, haunting, and vivacious, Pale Waves prove that pop can be just as gloomy as it is fun. The predictable critique of this debut album will likely be “it sounds too similar,” but such an opinion is little more than a lazy dismissal, as Pale Waves’ true triumph is in their complex subtleties. From the vivacity of certified bop “Television Romance” to the sting of heartbreaking “Karl,” Pale Waves bring forth an album as nuanced as it is impressive. My Mind Makes Noises may have been a long time coming, but it was definitely worth the wait.

Check out My Mind Makes Noises, upcoming Pale Waves tour dates, and more here!


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About Dana Jacobs

I write about music and live shows and other fun things. Strong feelings about pugs, Halloween, and burritos. Currently zooming around northern California, with frequent stops in LA.

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