You suspect Pale Waves are the sort of new band who delight in subverting expectations. One glance at singing guitarist Heather Baron-Gracie and drummer Ciara Doran – Gothic china dolls with yin-and-yang raven and bleached blond hair – and it’s safe to assume their music would be all po-faced, emo sturm-und-drang, that their dream gig would be the cover of Kerrang! magazine.
Instead, as the Manchester four-piece launch into Television Romance, their biggest tune to date (2.9m YouTube views), Pale Waves reveal themselves to be less pale and interesting and more sly and funky. Baron-Gracie is letting some guy down gently – “You and I haven’t got it / Television romance” – but the tune is pure pop, the guitar lines bejewelled, and the uptight bass harks back to the era of Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody.
The women – Baron-Gracie and Doran – are the prime movers. Bassist Charlie Wood, poached from another Manchester band, and guitarist Hugo Silvani, a veteran of less ambitious outfits, are the capable, ungothic hands hired to fulfil the pair’s creative vision.
That vision is playing out nicely: Pale Waves placed fifth on the BBC’s bellwether Sound of 2018 poll, one of only two guitar bands of 16 hopefuls. Doran is producing the band’s debut album, currently being recorded. They’re touring all spring and into the festival season. Pale Waves are primed and ready to be obsessed over by an audience for whom visual genre cues are a vestigial concern.
For now, though, there is a throat-clearing four-song EP, All the Things I Never Said, and songs like My Obsession. Tonight, it exhibits some black-clad leanings. “When death comes you should be heaven’s obsession,” sings Baron-Gracie. But it also sounds like someone has left a vintage Walkman to play Don Henley’s The Boys of Summer underneath the stage.
Someone did get there first, though: Pale Waves’ labelmates and mentors, the 1975 – another Manchester guitar band who decided 80s funk-pop was the new indie guitar rock, and promptly scored a No 1 album not just in the UK but the US with I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It (2016). They are now readying their hotly anticipated follow-up, Music for Cars.
The 1975 produced two of Pale Waves’ early singles – There’s a Honey and Television Romance – and 1975 singer Matt Healy directed the nicely turned video for the latter. Pretty much every Pale Waves song recalls the 1975, and maybe even one specific 1975 song – She’s American. While Baron-Gracie and Doran might look like they love the gloom, Pale Waves are going to have to work hard to emerge from their mentors’ shadow.
Their pop songs are strong, though. Recent single New Year’s Eve captures the angst of that overhyped party night with an earworm of a melody. Its eloquent uncertainty – Pale Waves’ most discernible theme – is repeated on swirly set closer There’s a Honey. “I would give you my body, but am I sure that you want me?” sings Baron-Gracie – only to be cut short by a good-natured stage invasion.