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Album Review: Who Am I? (February 12, 2021) – Pale Waves

By Evan Cardinal, Albright '21

Feb 19, 2021

The Context – The British scene of the 1980s and 1990s helped usher syn-heavy distortion and ethereal vocal effects into indie and alternative rock music. My Bloody Valentine, Dinosaur Jr., the Jesus & Mary Chain, and the Cocteau Twins headlined this dreamy “shoegaze” genre that influenced the today’s premier acts such as the 1975, Lorde, the xx, and Troye Sivan. Manchester’s quartet Pale Waves is another dream pop act transcribing the synth wave for contemporary audiences.

Following a destinable meeting at a liquor store, singer/songwriter Heather Baron-Gracie, drummer Ciara Doran, bassist Charlie Wood, and guitarist Hugo Silvani banded together to form Pale Waves in 2015. West London indie label Dirty Hit picked up the band in 2017—the year that saw the infectious pop bop “There’s a Honey” released as Pale Waves’ debut single. Pale Waves unveiled their EP All the Things I Never Said in February 2018 before the September 2018 release of their full-length debut My Mind Makes Noises (produced by members of the 1975 and highlighted by the likes of angsty, dark, and fun-loving tracks like “Eighteen,” “Television Romance,” and “There’s a Honey”). Prior to the 2021 follow-up, Pale Waves featured on the electro Asmara Remix of Lawrence Rothman & Nguzunguzu’s “Skindeepskyhighheartwide” in July 2020.

The Content – Who Am I?, Pale Waves’ second LP, begins with a melancholy anthem from Baron-Gracie where her sentimental crooning pairs well with the acoustic guitar backdrop in “Change.” The emotion carries over into the more subdued, but equally as emotive track “Fall to Pieces.” One of the pre-release singles, “She’s My Religion,” draws on an Alanis Morrisette-esque vocal delivery and production but builds to a chorus where Baron-Gracie’s pop-friendly vocals make the song a Pale Waves staple.

“Easy” is a blitz of lovingly pop energy indicative of the My Mind Makes Noises debut record. Pale Waves return to the downtrodden mood of the record juxtaposed by an otherwise lively sound on “Wish U Were Here.” The quick-paced tempo and confident vocal delivery on the 1975-sounding “Tomorrow” sets an optimistically-tinged tone to counter the aforementioned down sound. The quartet brings forth another energetic track with the empowering agency of the bouncy “You Don’t Own Me.”

“I Just Needed You” considerably slows the pacing of the record with its calming vocals and production. Baron-Gracie, oft compared to Taylor Swift (especially after Pale Waves’ cover of “22”), seems to channel the former Reading native’s iconic vocals on the outpouring ballad “Odd Ones Out.” The pop vibes continue to shine along with the speedy tempo on the aptly named “Run To.” The existential eponymous track, “Who Am I?,” poignantly encapsulates the mental health narrative of “Run To” and other previous songs but musically serves as a lackluster slow-burner closing out the record.

The Skinny – Pale Waves’ Who Am I? captures the infectious dream pop sounds that constructed their acclaimed 2018 full-length debut, yet the record supplants My Mind Makes Noises due to a more polished level of songwriting and production. Rather than conjure 80s shoegaze like before, Baron-Gracie and company revamp a late 90s/early 2000s alt-production that sets a near perfect backdrop to the sonic confessional of love, heartbreak, and mental health themes packed on the sophomore record. Who Am I? is yet another excellent display of musical reimagination as Pale Waves adds to its growing catalogue of nostalgia.

The Rating – 7.6/10

Who Am I?

  1. Change
  2. Fall to Pieces
  3. She’s My Religion
  4. Easy
  5. Wish U Were Here
  6. Tomorrow
  7. You Don’t Own Me
  8. I Just Needed You
  9. Odd Ones Out
  10. Run To
  11. Who Am I?

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