At times off-kilter, and others an almost formulaic album - but when it hits the mark, My Mind Makes Noises really hits.
In ‘Drive' by Pale Waves the listener gets a run-down of the major themes covered in the Manchester quartet's debut album, My Mind Makes Noises, as well as a taste of the work’s typical sonic palette. Synths twinkle in the background as the bass and beats move around from instruments to programmed tracks and back again. The instruments, provided by drummer Ciara Doran, guitarist Hugo Silvani, and bassist Charlie Wood, fade out and drop back in at only the most appropriate, but predictable, places, and the track steadily pulses along. When vocalist and guitarist Heather Baron-Gracie sings “I drive fast so I can feel something,” “I fall in and out of love with everything,” and “I ruin my own life just for nothing” she all but encompasses the lyrical content of the rest of the fifty-minute, fourteen-track album. All but, that is.
Produced, at least in part, by the 1975 members George Daniel and Matthew Healy, the band’s presence and influence can be heard across the entire album. The shimmery shine of the production calls to mind the band’s second album, I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It. With programmed and recorded instruments being treated with equal respect and earning equal placing on the album. The album artwork itself even draws comparisons to the 1975’s first two albums, with neon signage on a box. There's even a nod to Netflix series, Stranger Things’ title card in the font choice – perhaps an allusion to the goth/emo leaning of Pale Waves.
Unfortunately, with The 1975 producing the Pale Waves album, the band’s similarities become all the more striking and present. The very first vocal delivered on the album by Baron-Gracie even comes across as very Healy-ish, on the opening line of “Eighteen” as the vocal melody drops down when she sings “this city depresses me.” An amalgamation of styles and sounds taken from Lana Del Rey, The 1975, Paramore, and the pop-punk and emo-pop of the early noughties, My Mind Makes Noises is an album that struggles sometimes to find its own distinctive identity.
The problem arises when the listener begins to understand and even predict the formulaic songwriting approach taken across the album. Pale Waves frequently utilise a pause section in the middle section with minimal drum accompaniment: a technique that requires scarcity to be effective. However, the anticipation this brings is lessened the more it is used, and with My Mind Makes Noises it quickly becomes overused and the album suffers as a result. There’s a consistent use of recorded and programmed instrumentation side-by-side, but never in a completely jarring nor complementary way; every-so-slightly crunchy bass sits nervously next to the smooth synths, but the contrast is never sharp enough nor heightened enough to make it as interesting as it could be.
These songwriting signatures, however, don't warrant a complete dismissal of the album. There are some brilliant about-faces, that stylistically work wonderfully for Pale Waves, and there are moments of lyrical genius that shine through. By far, the best track on the album is closer 'Karl (I Wonder What It’s Like To Die).' Written about the loss of Baron-Gracie’s grandfather and how it’s affected her in the years since, it’s a gorgeously open, unrestrained, and assured song. Speaking about the track, Baron-Gracie said: "I wanted the acoustic song to be really raw and to make people feel uncomfortable and a bit anxious listening to it." It proves to be the perfect vehicle for the lyrics and Baron-Gracie’s voice as she paints pictures of life in the wake of the loss of a man who clearly meant so much to her, with heart-breaking scenes are fleshed out for the listener. It’s a great closing track and, although at odds to the rest of the album, an almost perfect track. Other lyrical bright-spots are found in songs 'Red,' 'Loveless Girl,' and 'Noises.' With Baron-Gracie fixating on tiny details about someone’s character that seems unimportant but hugely illustrative all at once in 'Red'. Descriptions of awkward meetings with people that you used to know, and may not have treated you well in 'Loveless Girl'. Plus tracks like 'There’s a Honey,' 'Noises,' 'When Did I Lose It All?' and 'She' certainly stand out for their soundscapes that steer away from the rest of the album.
Overall, it’s at times off-kilter, at times almost formulaic album, but when it hits the mark, My Mind Makes Noises really hits. It’s just a shame that the rest of the track-list bogs it down and dulls the album’s overall ability.
Listen to Pale Waves My Mind Makes Noises below