Album Review: Pale Waves - Who Am I?

Leonie Bellini reviews the sophomore LP from indie-pop stars Pale Waves.

Leonie Bellini
6th February 2021
‘Change’ is a very fitting title for Who Am I?’s opener. The Manchester quartet’s debut was swirled in The 1975-adjacent hype, and while it was well-received, it was clear from the infectious pop of ‘There’s A Honey’ and ‘Eighteen’ that there were higher pinnacles in store. Who Am I? delivers tenfold on that promise, brimming with Avril Lavigne-esque indie-pop classics, and the sound of a band truly coming into their own.

It’s hard to describe stand-out single ‘She’s My Religion’ as anything other than perfect. Hearing a queer relationship described so lovingly and multi-dimensionally, by frontperson Heather Baron-Gracie, is never not blissful, and paired with a ridiculously catchy, soaring chorus it is glistening and wholly joyful. Up next bursts the thumping Robyn-tinged ‘Easy’, grinning “how could it be/that you’re alive the same time as me!” with arena-big production and renewed clarity, a friends-on-shoulders anthem.

The record continues with similarly irresistible confidence. The choruses of ‘Tomorrow’ and ‘Fall To Pieces’ could soundtrack the modern equivalent of Lindsey Lohan’s band from Freaky Friday in the very best way possible, amplified by Ciara Doran’s formidable drums and a ‘take-no-bullshit’ attitude. With sticky guitars and grungey bass from the excellent Hugo Silvani and Charlie Wood, ‘You Don’t Own Me’ stomps on misogyny and gender binaries, yelling its bedroom-door slam of “I’d rather pull out my teeth/than be who you want me to be”. The flutter of quieter songs ‘I Just Needed You’ and ‘Wish U Were Here’ is longing and soft, while ‘Odd Ones Out’ is a searching but defiant acoustic sing-along, a torch shone into the darkness of feeling alone and isolated.

Closing tracks ‘Run To’ and the titular ‘Who Am I?’ illustrate the perfect poles of how far Pale Waves have come; the former a jangly, devoted love song, the latter a sombre but hopeful piano-led plea for self-discovery. Amid the chaos of the pandemic, Pale Waves have crafted in Who Am I? a triumphant, gleefully infectious ode to love, selfhood, and freedom.

(5/5)

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