Pretty much since they started gaining significant amounts of traction, it’s been largely accepted that Pale Waves are more or less and extension of The 1975. Their marketing has attempted to prove different (as well as seemingly try to relegate goth-pop to become just as much of a nebulous construct as emo-rap), but from their unavoidable synthpop influence and carefully crafted image to the fact they’re signed to Dirty Hit, it’s hard to avoid how much of that band plays a part here. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though; as uneven as The 1975 can be, their best material is a lot smarter and more incisive than most indie-pop, and if that too is going to play a role in Pale Waves’ debut full-length My Mind Makes Noises, the results could be pretty great, or at least enough to match the dreaded hype that’s been piled upon them.
Unfortunately, it’s neither of those things, and instead My Mind Makes Noises ticks all the expected boxes of a new band making their big debut before they’re clearly ready – it’s over-long, it’s yet to develop much of a sound of its own, and when those two factors come together, it can all blur together in unforgivable amounts. These are all incredibly easy fixes that could’ve been dealt with with a bit more time, but it wouldn’t be wrong to suggest that this is an album pushed out to capture whatever remaining hype is left from Pale Waves’ EP released earlier this year, especially with the emphasis on quantity over quality.
And that’s definitely a point that needs to be discussed, particularly when even Pale Waves fans have picked up on it; fourteen tracks of an incredibly restricted sound is far too long for a debut, and when it causes earlier songs to totally fade before even a full listen is over, that’s clearly a bad thing. At least in isolation, Pale Waves have a perfectly workable sound, with the likes of Eighteen and Came In Close taking the synthpop framework that Chvrches popularised and adorning it with their own sparkle direct from a romanticised version of the ‘80s. On a purely technical leve, barely a foot is put wrong throughout My Mind Makes Noises; there’s a pleasing sheen to the synths that are directly reminiscent of The 1975 on more than a few occasions, and guitars, while used sparingly, give a bit of necessary crunch to tracks like Drive to pump them up that bit more. It’s all executed smoothly enough, and in a way that highlights the benefits of being as lightweight as it is.
And yet, My Mind Makes Noises as a complete body of work rarely finds a way to tie its individual threads together effectively, so it just keeps circling back on itself and draining that spark from pretty much all of its positive qualities. Yes, it sounds fine almost across the board, but there’s a low tolerance for this sort of thing as it is, and to think that Pale Waves can convincingly stretch it over fourteen tracks while remaining fresh is a naïve mindset indeed. When they can barely reach the halfway mark with When Did I Lose It All? without defaulting to exclusively washed-out, echoing synth miasma, that’s not a good sign in itself, and by the time Television Romance hits as only one of numerous rehashes of both themselves and their mentors, it couldn’t be more obvious that quality control has been pitched right out of the window. Again, it’s a nice sound on its own, but even the most ardent of advocates will admit that there’s simply not enough to extrapolate over fourteen tracks, and the album frequently becomes a chore to get through.
Even in the writing, there’s little to nothing here to grab the attention by any greater amount, and it ends up just as flimsy as everything else. Heather Baron-Gracie is a suitably expressive and passionate vocalist, and in the Lauren Mayberry vein that she’s looking to occupy, there’s a certain naïveté that can occasionally be gleaned from her writing that’s easy enough to be pulled into like on Eighteen. But when these lyrics are void of both Chvrches’ wider vision and The 1975’s piled-on artifice, the amount of this album that sinks to basic, teen-pop clichés is honestly staggering. There’s such a mawkish sense of hollow over-emoting on There’s A Honey and She that never produces any interesting imagery or themes, inasmuch as this album feels like it was produced solely to soundtrack waves upon waves of teen dramas and nothing else. And yet with Karl (I Wonder What It’s Like To Die) ending things off, a lament to Baron-Gracie’s grandfather and going into deep detail about his death, there’s proof that Pale Waves can offer more, only to forgo it for a more likely mainstream crossover.
Granted, it’s very much possible that could be the precursor for more personal material to come next time, but given how well this album seems to be doing, don’t hold your breath. And the sad fact is that Pale Waves could be a bit weirder and develop more of a personality and still reach those indie darling heights (again, look at The 1975), but if My Mind Makes Noises is anything to go by, there’s clearly very little forethought in this band’s camp about what will and won’t work. They’ve already squandered a potentially solid sound by overreaching and diluting it by enormous amounts, and that’s resulted in an album that is unlikely to be returned to in any capacity. Even if it’s not irredeemable by any stretch, Pale Waves aren’t making it all that easy to find the positives here.
For fans of: The 1975, Chvrches, The Japanese House
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘My Mind Makes Noises’ by Pale Waves is out now on Dirty Hit Records.