Pale Waves: Who Am I? (Dirty Hit)

Manchester indie rock outfit return with retooled sound on sterling second album

Released Feb 12th, 2021 via Dirty Hit Records / By Dave Reynolds
Pale Waves: Who Am I? (Dirty Hit) Pale Waves second LP – as the album title Who Am I? suggests – finds the band becoming more comfortable exploring and sharing their own lived-in experiences.

Following the release of their first album - the John Hughes-gazing My Mind Makes Voices – a number of life-altering moments and realisations resulted in the band approaching the creation of their second album from a very different perspective. Years of non-stop touring, a near-fatal bus crash, frontwoman Heather Baron-Gracie coming out and drummer Ciara Doran announcing they have gender dysphoria were but a few of the footnotes that fed into this record’s development. Most crucial of all was Baron-Gracie’s decision to no longer write in partnership with Doran anymore and having come out, finally felt comfortable to be more honest lyrically, while also trying to amplify the experiences of their proudly LGBTQ+ fanbase.

From a sonic perspective, there was a significant shift too. The album art recalls the visuals from Avril Lavigne’s debut Let Go, and Baron-Gracie recenly cited the singer along with Courtney Love and Alanis Morissette as key inspirations. In particular, the emotional transparency in their writing and the part-pop part-alt rock sounds shine through as major influences on this album.

Appropriately, the opening track is titled Change, but rather than serving as a self-referential comment on the shift in style, it channels the classic romantic angst of the mid-noughties era. Fall To Pieces follows a similar tack, with an acoustic guitar accompanying the verses sounding similar to RHCP’s Under The Bridge.

Tracks such as Tomorrow and You Don’t Own Me are as high tempo as anything Pale Waves have ever produced. On the former, Baron-Gracie advocates for others to keep battling through adversities they are facing. On the latter, she takes aim at gender stereotypes she faces in the music industry, reminiscent of Hole’s Celebrity Skin, with a guitar line in the verses that wouldn’t feel out of place on an old Avril song.

Baron-Gracie resided in LA with girlfriend Kelsi Luck while writing the album, and parts of the album serve as both a love-letter to her partner and a reflection of the changes she has gone through. On Easy she states “I’m not who I used to be / loving you is easy” and on the mid-tempo ballad I Just Needed You, she realises that all the clichéd things she wanted before - fame, money, fancy clothes - weren’t really what she needed to make her happy.

While the themes of love and change are nothing ground-breaking, Who Am I? feels very current and of its time. It wears its musical reference points of 90s and 00s artists on its sleeve, but the personal lyrics are something that many will identify with. For an album recorded and released during the pandemic, the final chorus line on Run Time likely cuts deep for many of us: “Life is going well, except my mental health". 4/5