Saturday, February 20th, 2021

Pale Waves – Easy

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Samson Savill de Jong: What happens when goths are happy? Pale Waves came through with an aesthetic of angsty teens with angsty teen lyrics, but a backing track of bright instrumentation that didn’t let the gloom linger. Since their debut album (ft. great singles and… meh deep cuts), band leader and frontwoman Heather Baron-Gracie has got herself a girlfriend and become a lot more happy with herself and the world. This song, and the album, is essentially a love letter to her girlfriend, and since the instrumentation was never too downbeat to begin with, it’s not a jarring shift like it could have been. Indeed the song still sounds great, with all the elements that worked last time, though I don’t think the lyrics are quite as strong. My favourite Pale Waves songs were so specific, with little details that painted a vivid picture of what Heather was going through. Here, the lyrics are suitably melodramatic (even if they’re happy, a goth can’t be understated) but they’re also cliched, unable to break out of general terms to show why this girl in particular makes loving so easy. Still, it’s a solid Pale Waves single, and their solid singles are still a step above.
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Jeffrey Brister: I’ve checked in on Pale Waves over the past few years, and every time I do, they just get more appealing. For me, “Easy” approaches the apex. Heather Baron-Gracie’s voice just fits this sound so perfectly. Her vocals delicately sit on top of the dense and layered arrangement full of twinkling synths and acoustic guitar, and sink to the middle during the luminous, pulsing chorus — a thrilling 80’s/90’s synthesis. And those mushy, sincere-but-not-corny lyrics? I’m in love.
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Alfred Soto: Although working the same Breakfast Club meets t.A.T.u. sound as Chvrches, Pale Waves put more urgency into the guitars, and the vocals register as if something were at stake. 
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Thomas Inskeep: They look emo-goth — think peak-era Alternative Press, cf. Evanescence — but sound like the last Paramore album. (Talk about cognitive dissonance.) Unfortunately, they don’t have anywhere near Hayley Williams’s songwriting prowess. I mean, “loving you is easy”? C’mon.
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Wayne Weizhen Zhang: What if instead of nostalgia for 1980s synthpop or 2010s maximalism, you took a second to mine the pop-rock of the early 2000s? What if you mixed the songwriting prowess of Taylor Swift with the synth verve of Dagny, and dropped it in the sonic landscape of Kelly Clarkson, Avril Lavigne and Michelle Branch? What if you could hit the romantic highs that Katy Perry hit in “Teenage Dream” and CRJ did in “I Really Like You”? What if you made it gay? (Like, really, really gay?) And what if the happiest song in 2021 was also the one that sounded the saddest?
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Joshua Lu: The alternative pop rock sound brings to mind teen drama movies of yesteryear, inviting all kinds of summery and vaguely happy memories that are dampened by a flat delivery. The chorus is all push, with not enough vocal modulations to really sell the rolling instrumental or the uplifting lyrics.
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Edward Okulicz: At their best, Pale Waves make me feel something like nostalgia for an age that never truly came nor fully retreated — but in my head canon, this music ruled the world for a time, and “Easy” sounds like it still does. Heather Baron-Gracie’s personality animates the cliches, and the sweep into the chorus lifts me from the ground into the air every time. 
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Will Adams: Loving this is easy. The verses sparkle like ’00s-era The Matrix productions, the chorus bursts with synth pulse in the style of “Style” and both sections are tethered by that crucial minor fourth chord in the pre-chorus. All those choices combined are what justify the cheesy lines (“You help me to believe!”). Heather Baron-Gracie gives into the sincerity, cynicism breaking down with each crack of her voice, and the result is a headrush of cushy feelings.
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Vikram Joseph: Nothing wrong with a pivot to early-00s guitar-pop — there are few things as exhilarating as the crisp, wide-open guitar chords and exquisitely-wrought emotional turmoil of genre high-points like “Mobile” or “Pieces Of Me”, songs that can render you adolescent again in an instant. It would seem a natural fit for Pale Waves, whose debut album was the stuff of teen movies and heady crushes, all heart-bursting synth-pop and high angst. And yet “Easy” is a frustrating thing, a song with so much raw potential but which chooses the wrong turn at every crossroads. The production is so compressed and restrictive — the guitars are processed like synths, the synths get lost behind the vocals, and the vocals just sound bad. And Pale Waves’ melodies, which flowed forth so naturally on My Mind Makes Noises, seem to desert them just before the chorus — set up to soar, it flops to ground like a deflated balloon, the vocal melody too monotonous and the chord progression bafflingly, maddeningly identical to the verse. The formula works better on other tracks on the album, but “Easy” is more let-down than Let Go.
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Katherine St Asaph: Text exchange with my boyfriend: “Just thinking of you.” “That’s sweet.” “Admittedly, the thought was ‘oh no, I wonder what Katherine thinks about [this new Pale Waves album]. Presented without endorsement.” My brand precedes me, and predictably(?), I do endorse it. His beef: “Easy” and songs like it are blatant, pandering grabs at nostalgia — in this case, the radio pop-rock of 2001 or so — at the expense of anything else. But unfortunately, I like being pandered to, so I guess I’m part of the problem; I would have loved a thousand more songs exactly like “Easy” back then, so what’s wrong with a thousand more now? The key: These recreations never really sound like the major names — the Avrils and Michelles in this case — so much as the smaller hits, the forgotten tracks, the follow-the-leaders, stuff like Hepburn or Kim Ferron or I Nine, or, an order of magnitude more popular, The Corrs. (Or, OK, “All You Wanted,” mostly the guitar tone.) Back then, people criticized how they strained to hit every single note and beat of the going sound; these days, that makes them exemplars of form. Not even a fucking Journey reference can ruin that.
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Reader average: [7.66] (3 votes)

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One Response to “Pale Waves – Easy”

  1. Loving you is easy? Make sure you tell that to the Eurovision contestant who might come up in upcoming singles and tell you it’s a losing game.

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