While the Mancunian four-piece Pale Waves have always experimented with their music by mixing elements of nostalgic pop, and current day indie, their untouchable goth personas remain at the very heart of it. No work proves this more than their previous album ‘My Mind Makes Noises’ which saw the band re-introduce themselves with an unruly confidence. Receiving rave reviews upon release, many were eager to see how the band would follow up this riotous declaration. But in a surprise twist, the band’s newest album ‘Who Am I’ turns away from their previous in-you-face image, and instead delves into questions of growth, self-discovery, and the pains that come with it. It’s a new-found vulnerability, that serves as a perfect addition to the band’s discography.
From the opener ‘Changes’ the band proves that despite the thematic shifts, their beloved sound remains the same, if upgraded. The track brings back all the nostalgia of 2000s pop we want to remember; soaring vocals over a heavy guitar, singing a peppy, coming-of-age earworm. It’s a beginning that grabs the listener and shakes them. However, it’s from this track, we see themes of identity emerge. Lead singer Heather Baron-Gracie, questions herself and those around her, and pleads for transformation. It’s subtle, but the addictive opening plants the seeds of the albums overarching themes of self-discovery.
The beginning track is followed with a number of bangers, which highlights include, ‘She’s My Religion’, an obsessive love song about the grungy girl next door, and ‘You Don’t Own Me’, which is full of thrashing drumbeats and pulsating basslines that reflect the unapologetic statements of self-worth. However, despite the velocity of the tracks made for the dancefloor, it seems that it’s the numbers where the band get vulnerable that are the most intriguing. Tracks such as ‘Odd Ones Out’ and ‘I Just Needed You’ swap out walls of sound for a muted backing and raw honesty. Delving into good, and bad sides of love, the group let their emotions guide their performance, creating intricate, irresistible pieces.
The passion and truly astounding songwriting displayed throughout culminate in the closer title-track ‘Who Am I’, which is undoubtedly where the album peaks. Haunting piano chords aid intimate vocals to create a ballad of self-reflection and genuine candidness. All the pain, adolescence and reflection seen previously come together, to ask the question central to the release; Who Am I? It’s a track that has an impact like no other, and opens up the band in new, and endearing ways. Overall, ‘Who Am I’ is an album that mixes the band’s notorious energy with a refreshing depth of emotion, that makes both the group and the work, all the better for it.