Sunday, March 11, 2018

EP Review: Pale Waves - All The Things I Never Said

Last autumn, I wrote about the pop/rock band Pale Waves, proclaiming them a band to watch out for, on the strength of their first three singles. I was not alone, as they have been gaining more and more attention in the mainstream, and are included in most everyone's list of bands poised to break out in 2018. That will probably have to wait for the full-length record they are working on right now, but before that comes out, we have an EP to put a cap on this first chapter in their young career. With four tracks they have been playing live on their current tours, it's a taste of who Pale Waves are and can be, and a frustrating example of how pop music (and the modern, digital age) can shoot itself in the foot. We'll get to that later.

Let's start with the four tracks we are given here. The EP kicks off with "New Year's Eve", one of their singles from last year, and a song that captures everything this phase of Pale Waves is all about. Their sound is what I'll call depressing pop, with the right kind of bright and jangly guitars, but played with a tone that sands down the shimmer, while the Heather Baron-Gracie's vocals have the detached feeling of a mid-90s slacker teen. I love that mix, which comes across as a savory bubblegum. "New Year's Eve" was fantastic then (and yes, I did close out the year listening to it), and it's still a fantastic pop tune.

Likewise, we have already heard "My Obsession", which is the band's slow burn song. Stretching over four minutes, the slow and soft verses set up the big pop hit of the choruses. While their songs can be a bit samey, this is the one that shows a different range for them, and is why there's so much hope for them as an album band, not just a singles band.

The newer tracks here are "The Tide" and "Heavenly", both of which are short and snappy numbers that deliver the hooks. Finding unique things to say about each track is a bit difficult, since they all share a similar sound, and many of the melodies rely on the same phrasing. That does two things. It means that if you like one Pale Waves song, you're going to quickly like them all, but it also means they need to be careful in the future about keeping their songs from blending together. That doesn't apply on an EP as short as this, which gets in and out long before you can grow tired of the band's signature sound.

But there's also something profoundly disappointing about this EP. While these songs are all good, I'm let down by the tracks that were picked. There are two other singles from last year that are not included here, "Television Romance" and "There's A Honey", which are amazing songs. Since the band has talked about their upcoming full-length having a different tone than the songs they have already released, that indicated neither will be used for that project, so I can't understand the reasoning for not including them here. The EP is only fifteen minutes long. Include the other two tracks, and we're not cracking twenty minutes by all that much. It would not only make this EP even better for their inclusion, but it would help the fans out by giving them the tracks in an easier to keep track of format. I'm of the old school, so I get annoyed when bands put out a single here and there, leaving those songs forever orphaned in playlists. It's a disservice to their own hard work.

That aside, I can't complain about the actual music Pale Waves has given us here. They have an endearing take on pop/rock that appeals to those of us who are old enough to have identified with "Daria", even if the band themselves aren't. Cold, depressing pop music is one of those things that is so amazing when you hear a great song, because it never occurs to you it's possible. Pale Waves shows it is, and while I have my issues with "All The Things I Never Said", their first real release is great stuff.

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