The bastard child of punk, grunge and britpop, Pale Angels hail from the unlikely home of Swansea, Wales via Jersey, USA. A Transatlantic combo of road veterans who between them have spent time in Crimes, The Arteries and The Ergs amongst many others, their experience pays off in an explosive record that sounds far louder than their three-piece line-up would imply. Album number two Imaginary People is released on 6 April via Exeter’s Specialist Subject Records, responsible for absolute bangers from the likes of Caves, Above Them, and Bangers themselves of course! Following on from debut LP Primal Play, frontman Mike Santostefanso’s slacker drawl leads the way through a varied mix of styles from acoustic-led indie jangle to the trademark sounds of nineties Seattle.
The opening salvo hits hard with three hook-laden anthems straight out the gates. ‘Lapin, Lapin’ has a deliciously yearning vocal line over a slowly building crescendo and a guitar riff that could have come straight off ‘In Utero’. This is followed by ‘I’m Nobody’, which cranks up the overdrive to stoner levels, and my personal favourite ‘Wild Vile Flesh’, a speedy thrasher that just sounds downright dirty. The chorus also reminds me somewhat of a Distillers song (in a there’s only so many chords in punk way, not a Gaye/Thicke lawsuit way), which is always a good thing! The trio’s years of songwriting expertise are clearly on show with singalong vocal lines galore, and you just know they’d slay it live. Later on in the record, the guys up the reverb to deliver some surftastic guitar riffs that could easily soundtrack a spy film as quickly as they could level your local dive bar venue.
Imaginary People does have a few unexpected low points though. Midway through the album, ‘Schizophrenic Affair’ sounds worryingly like Oasis in stark contrast to the punk fury unleashed in the first fifteen minutes. More unfortunate still is the ninth track ‘Dreamer’, which meanders through six boring minutes of nothing much. An underdeveloped non-song, I felt like hitting the skip button halfway through but held out until the bitter end to find little more than the death knells of an unrelenting tambourine and a spring reverb-drenched guitar that just won’t give up even after the track’s natural and much-needed end. In fact, while bands always get bonus points in my books for attempting a full-length album instead of the constant slew of EPs, this record could do with losing a fair few minutes of aimless wandering and focus instead on the short sharp hooks, of which there are many! The closing track absolves for the sins of its predecessor with a brilliantly shouty chorus and dissonant guitar riff. Another six-minute number, here the seconds don’t feel wasted as it builds throughout to a gloriously noisy conclusion.
Ultimately you don’t come to grunge expecting reinvention. It is a genre steeped in yellow smiley-face branded history, and to that end Pale Angels deliver the goods. The overall sound of the album is spot-on too, with colossal guitars erupting over disgustingly thick and fuzzy Muff bass. The production is fittingly live and raw, it’s certainly refreshing to hear drums that sound like an actual kit is being played in the same room as the rest of the band – a point missing from many over-engineered and sample reinforced rock records today. With tunes to match, ‘Imaginary People’ is well worth picking up and certainly serves as a far more fitting legacy to a certain Mr Cobain than the latest posthumous documentary doing the rounds. Flannel up and fuzz out, Pale Angels are leading the charge for grunge in 2015.
3.5 out of 5 high fives!