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Will Snelling reviews the BBC Sound of 2018 shortlisted band Pale Waves, live at Thekla.

Despite my current efforts to seem cool to my peers by pretending that I only listen to jazzy hip-hop beats, scratchy guitars and lyrics of teenage angst will always be somewhere inside my DNA. I’ll admit that, in an automatic muscle spasm, I click on those NME articles speculating about the next Arctic Monkeys album. I even thought there were some good songs on that 1975 album with the long and pretentious title, although I have to put my Spotify on private when I listen to ‘Love Me’, as though I’m going to be blackmailed Black-Mirror-style for my transgression.

Therefore, when I saw that BBC Sound of 2018 shortlisted Pale Waves were coming to Bristol, my repressed (but not that repressed) indie impulses drew towards giving them a go. They looked like fun with their campy gothic stylings, and I have enough respect for the Beeb to trust its choice in new music. I remember my 14-year-old self finding a Peace gig a transcendental experience, so surely today’s indie darlings would trigger a vague warm nostalgia, at the very least.

Alas, no. At least the 1975 stole from David Bowie; Pale Waves, meanwhile, prove to be about as anonymous in their sound as a default answerphone message. It’s commercial indie pop distilled to its essence, all insistent shimmery guitar leads and rousing major key choruses, designed to soundtrack your next Urban Outfitters purchase. Their set induced a feeling of being trapped in indie purgatory, listening to the same verse, the same chorus over and over and over for 45 minutes. This would be more bearable if they sounded like a live band, but instead their songs are performed with a kind of metronomical slickness that saps any trace of unpredictability from the music. I was almost praying for someone’s guitar to go out of tune, or a drum stick to break.

Bristol tonight

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The songs themselves are not in themselves awful: ‘The Tide’, with its taut grooves and interlocking guitar and drums, is polished songwriting, and its chorus has subsequently planted itself into my mind, as much as I try to resist. The problem is their rigid adherence to a formula; each of their other big singles, ‘There’s a Honey’, ‘Television Romance’ and ‘New Years Eve’ bludgeon you with the same earnest-teenage-longing chorus, until you start to yearn for some industrial black metal just to cleanse your palate. The set felt like one of the most staid by a young band I’ve seen in a while.

However, it was the support band, ‘Our Girl’, led by The Big Moon’s Soph Nathan, that were the unexpected highlight. Their blend of garage rock sludge, swirling psychedelia and mellifluous vocal melodies feels captivating, a stark contrast to Pale Waves’ serial inoffensiveness. The thick, reverb-soaked wall of sound they manage to produce somehow swallows up the whole room, despite there only being three of them hammering away at their instruments. Adept gear-shifts from thunderous noise to hushed restraint, such as in a closing highlight ‘Two Life’, create a satisfyingly multi-dimensional sound, without feeling like a rehash of the Pixies’ trademark loud-quiet dynamics. Its an injustice that Our Girl weren’t the headline act, but I’m confident their joyful dissonance will cut through sooner rather than later.

Featured image: Facebook // Pale Waves

Did you catch Pale Waves at Thekla? What did you think? Let us know!

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