- 15 Feb 21
Goth-pop growing pains with a certain gloss.
Almost three years have passed since the release of My Mind Makes Noises - the commanding debut album from Mancunian quartet Pale Waves.
As BIMM graduates and Dirty Hit label mates of Beabadoobee and the 1975, the guitar-driven band have captured fans worldwide with their searing honesty and nostalgia for early 2000s pop-punk. Not to mention the intoxicating frontwoman Heather Baron-Gracie, who combines her trademark goth aesthetic with a flair for writing irresistibly romantic pop tracks. Baron-Gracie formed a musical alliance with drummer Ciara Doran at university, and Pale Waves later became the result. Despite maintaining certain bricks of her walls on Album Number 1, the outfit’s sophomore effort reveals more intimate aspects of themselves as people - most notably in terms of sexuality.
With a diehard legion of die-hard fans, the pressure for Who Am I? was presumably high, and the record delivers what it promised. There’s the presence of a newfound self-assuredness in Baron-Gracie since coming out, with the 26-year-old’s bravery also resulting in emotional tracks addressing mental health and sobriety struggles. Avril Lavigne melodies and Hayley Williams power ballads are scattered throughout the project, as clichéd a comparison as that sounds. ‘Fall to Pieces’ and ‘Easy’ display opposing relationship situations, one with confusion and anxiety, the other with confidence and relief. Both tracks build momentum perfectly, leading to angsty choruses that remain in the brain long after listening.
Baron-Gracie’s use of she/her pronouns on ‘She’s My Religion’ emphasise her recently discovered sense of queer pride with her fans (“She's cold, she's dark, she's cynical/ She's forever angry at the world/ She's no angel, but she is my religion”) while the multi-instrumentalist defends the LGBTQ+ community more forcefully on ‘Tomorrow’:
“Sexuality isn’t a choice/ Don’t let anyone tell you it’s wrong.”
Occasionally the romance goes a tad too far, with lyrics a little too sweet, but Baron-Cohen’s authenticity is nevertheless one of the primary reasons why Gen Z love Pale Waves. Her words would have aided her during adolescence, so she decides to give back. The coming-of-age album possesses the foundations for an empowering female-led pop-rock project that fills the gap in the market. Certain tracks have a tendency to blend together in similarity, and the band don’t exactly shatter any genre boundaries. However, that doesn’t mean the LP isn’t a strong second statement of where the band hopes to go in the future.
Smart songwriting, tackled insecurities and their standout Courtney Love aesthetic brew a formula for success on Who Am I? Their younger audience especially won’t be disappointed: the album will no doubt make an appearance at the weepy end of a very cool, very alt house party (far into the future).
Listen to: 'Change', 'Fall to Pieces'
Who I Am? is out now via Dirty Hit.