The conversation around Pale Waves is all centered around the same dilemma. There is an undeniable charm to the Manchester indie quartet’s output of light, breezy 80s-tinged electro-pop, but nearly all of their catalog is profoundly derivative of their influences, often distractingly so. Although for some fans of peppy guitar rock, this is one of the most anticipated records of the year, it cements Pale Waves as a near carbon copy of mentors and labelmates The 1975 (even reminiscent of the band in their album artwork). Taking advantage of the cultural climate’s fervent obsession with nostalgia, the band’s full-length debut, My Mind Makes Noises, is momentarily satisfying but ultimately far too unoriginal to be decently affecting.
Not only does the album wear its influences on its sleeve with almost zero alteration, it is draped in nearly unbroken uniformity. It’s often difficult to tell when one track gives way to another, as when “Came In Close” bleeds indifferently into “Loveless Girl.” Even the first two singles off My Mind Makes Noises (“There’s a Honey” and “Television Romance”) are nearly indistinguishable from one another. It all essentially becomes a single shapeless blur, nearly an hour of the same musical themes, right down to vocalist Heather Baron-Gracie’s tedious, repetitive vocal patterns. The band’s blind obsession with a forgotten era of pop music has completely hindered their ability to add any discernible footprint of their own.
Still, there are some pleasurable moments scattered throughout the lengthy tracklist, from the flowing guitar solo on “Red” to the confident bliss of songs like “Drive” and “Kiss.” Although they are cribbing heavily from their musical idols, there’s often an adolescent elation to these zippy, transparent tracks, as their thematic journey recounts our base human emotions. Simplicity is one of the most alluring accessories pop music has at its disposal, as Pale Waves knows quite well.
However, they never try for any of the other tricks of the genre. My Mind Makes Noises feels as though it were focus tested, with any potentially offensive corners sanded down so that it can be accessible to the widest group of people possible. And it does so to the detriment of any visible personality. Even as the lyrical content dives into personal struggles, the songs are so tame and unobtrusive that it’s nearly impossible for the listener to avoid zoning out and mentally going over their to-do list for the rest of the day. It’s hard to engage with the album on any substantial level. Recently, we’ve seen bands expand upon the foundation of an 80s pop formula and come up with some of the most inspired work of their career (like Paramore’s After Laughter last year), but Pales Waves expect their heroes to do all of the heavy lifting for them.
On his adoration for The Smiths, John Peel famously said, “I was impressed because unlike most bands…you couldn’t immediately tell which records they’d been listening to.” That certainly isn’t the case with Pale Waves. Art doesn’t exist in a vacuum. All music is informed by outside forces. Still, even direct homage – if, of course, it aims to be at all memorable – is required to put its own unique spin on the work of its predecessors. Pale Waves continue to keep their influences obvious and strictly surface level. Even in its most rousing moments, My Mind Makes Noises accomplishes little more than compelling the listener to queue up a Carly Rae Jepsen playlist or dust off their old record collection and throw on some of the 80s pop albums of their youth. However, this is a debut record (and how!). Pale Waves still have time to find their voice, and – in cursory flashes – they’ve demonstrated their potential to do just that.