“Are You Feeling Alive” is the debut full-length EP by Pale Monsters, which finds the band displaying a strong sense of identity in both the alternative-rock and new wave arenas.
The first three tracks on the album move along at a fairly similar pace, introducing the bands catchier elements in both genres, and then some.Everybody (Take What You Can Take) begins and ends with the band delving, if only briefly, into math-rock territory. And the self-titled second track, in particular, is an album highlight, with the rock-and-roll guitar tones in the verses giving way to a dynamic chorus (singer Chris Mulvey’s resonant delivery of “The monsters we make are our own” is possibly the catchiest moment on the album) underlaid with some fantastic synthesizer parts.
In fact, Mike Ward’s synth work might just be the album’s most discerning feature. Ward draws from an impressive reservoir of electronic sounds, providing each track with custom tapestries in the form of well-thought-out texturing sounds. But Ward doesn’t just provide the occasional background note, he is also comfortable mixing it up during some of the jammier sections on this album. Tracks like Buzzed Out and Fine find him at the forefront, providing melodies and even solos, with the former providing a synth-heavy breakdown in what is possibly the closest to garage rock a synth riff can get.
The mixing is mostly great, with the only real issue being the vocals, which are placed at the forefront, and can be distractingly loud at times. This is especially noticeable in the first track All This Time We Wait, with singer Mulvey’s more forceful sounding vocals not sounding properly leveled in accordance with instrumentation.
Some of the lyrical phrasing and pronunciation can also sound a bit shoehorned at times, even by alt-rock and new wave standards. Whether it’s a stylistic choice, or a case of DIY attitude, Mulvey’s limited range can at times make for some similar sounding vocal lines across the album. His odd mixture of an alt-rock whine and new wave croon results in more than a few choruses utilizing similar vocal techniques, with Mulvey elongating syllables and taking liberties with pronunciations throughout. Still, though, there are plenty of ear-worm moments on the album that make the vocal histrionics mostly easy to bypass, and even, in a certain case, somewhat endearing.
The Dead comes around the halfway point, and marks an interesting change in the album, with the band reigning in their usual upbeat vibe in favor of a more melancholic, delay-laden sound. Even Mulvey adapts well to the shift in tone, briefly utilizing new vocal techniques such a vibrato and falsetto to impressive, moody effect. This, and closer Gone (which is honestly a meandering, weak point in an otherwise solid album) are the slowest tracks on the album and highlight a moodier side to Pale Monsters.
Bombs Away is another interesting track (or interlude, really), which showcases an instrumental Pale Monsters creating some lush, groovy, and spacey atmospheres. The whole band shines in this minute-and-a-half, revealing their ability to create almost soundtrack-like big moments throughout the album. The delayed guitars, subtle drum work, and creative synth work are all flattered by a wider, more spacious and contemplative sound. And though the track is ultimately just a prologue to Buzzed Out, it shows a side to the Pale Monsters that I’d honestly have liked to have heard more of on this album.
Pale Monsters “Are You Feeling Alive” is a strong entry in the 2018 alt-rock and new wave genres. Aside from some mixing issues, and personal preferences, this is an incredibly solid debut by a band who seems to understand what they have to offer, and approaches their songwriting with this confidence and tenacity. On future releases, it might benefit the band to utilize this self-assuredness when stepping outside of their genre, as the short bursts of experimentation contribute quite a bit to the atmosphere on the album, but perhaps this is Pale Monsters way of leaving the listener wanting more. Ultimately, Pale Monsters “Are You Feeling Alive” is an approachable, catchy release, and a big first step from a band that I expect to see more of in the years to come.