In 2018 UK Gothic/Emo – Synth Rock band Pale Waves made noise on the rock charts with their eclectic instrumentations and overtly catchy – albeit depressive lyrics that could make those in the dumps elevate their serotonin through dancing and singing. Their debut My Mind Makes Noises had an arrangement of lush – noisy rock music and with lead singer Heather Baron-Gracie’s unique songwriting and melodies elevated their attention in the music world. But their follow up Who Am I? takes a step back from relying on synth melodies and delivers tracks that are tamer in instrumentation, but still carries that relativity to keep fans coming back for more.
Who Am I? has recurring undertones of 90s garage/grunge rock, but when it intertwines with the goth-like lyricism makes it feel like a time capsule of something out of the very late 90s. In ways it is very similar to the kind of emo-rock artists like Avril Lavigne was releasing at the time, the only difference is that Pale Waves usually have more to say in their words and instruments.
Tracks like “Fall to Pieces,” shows a perfect meshing of the alternating 90s/00s punk infusions with a little modernization from slight echo modulation. They keep up the aesthetic with a very 90s music video. Unlike My Mind Makes Noises, there is no hyper stylization in the aesthetic and though it causes some stepbacks it doesn’t always hinder Who Am I?
Pale Waves continues a streak of eloquent melodies and hypnotic instrumentations that lead singer Heather Baron-Gracie and the rest of the band delivers. Even if it doesn’t have the audacious dreamy mysticism that made the first album such a synth-powerhouse, it tries to deliver through grittier and unflinching instrumentations. But that doesn’t mean the album is devoid of these moments, as tracks “Easy,” and “She’s My Religion,” are reminiscent of the kind of sound from their debut.
Unfortunately Who Am I? let’s most of its tracks pass by swiftly where at times you feel like this one huge orchestration, though the first half is full of tracks about relationships and heartbreak. But as the album starts to dive into the second half of tracks, the themes and writing begins to hollow out.
This is not the case for the standout “You Don’t Own Me,” a monstrous thrasher of a hard rock anthem for a band that rarely delivers notes on that front. Heather Baron-Gracie’s songwriting is at its strongest here with the dynamic as it tackles themes of mental health and the perception behind the notion – “You have a pretty face, you should smile.”
A lot of the themes Pale Waves work with deal with mental health – as told by a goth, it helps get over the simplistic choruses on the album. Though the instrumentation shift during the choruses allows for Heather’s melodies to take center stage, you tend to forget the simplicity. It was My Mind Makes Noises biggest crutch, as it keeps you remembering the catchiness.
However, the writing of her verses is always strong and Who Am I? for the most is broken down to let Heather flex. But nobody is purely perfect in one area, as evident with the track “Tomorrow” which falters into the kind of hokey “universal empowerment track for the fans” category. . It’s cringe empowerment-like verbiage that doesn’t feel like a lot of thought was put into the execution. It isn’t like the elegant and simple “She’s My Religion,” the excellent anthem about same sex love. But for some they will find enjoyment, and it’s a cool of the band to use the mainframe of it as a way to speak to them through each song. It is slightly disheartening since the instrumentation feels wasted, with it’s pure rock core deriving from Ciara Doran’s drumming and Huge Silvani’s electric riffs.
For the things that Who Am I? lacks there is a good amount of tracks to keep you zooming anytime you sit through it. Pale Waves take a step back in their sonic progression as the dreamy synth rock seems like the direction where they can challenge themselves past certain limitations as artists.