Born of a cross-pollination between Totnes and Sheffield, Pale Blue Eyes have been steadily grafting over a number of difficult years to exact their modernist pop vision. At the ship’s helm, Matt and Lucy Board are a genuine marriage of two stylistic perspectives, each bringing unique sonic tropes to the table. It is the pair’s fascination with DIY ethic, retro synths and reminiscence that truly fuels their sound world, calling upon nostalgia and a captivating optimism.
Having recorded in various DIY spaces around Sheffield and Plymouth, plus a short stint in the iconic Rockfield Studios in Wales, Pale Blue Eyes soon hungered for more studio time and less pressure from the ticking clock. And thus, approaching their debut, the band’s workload expanded to waiting tables at snooty corporate events, working at soup kitchens, and even assisting tree surgeons, with all proceeds going towards building up their own Penquit Mill studio space. Testament to their ethic and genuine care as a band, the studio was set up adjacent to Matt’s old family home, so they could be there to help his Mum through long term illness.
This heartwarming optimism is what characterises their debut from the get-go. Souvenir begins with frenetic electropop opener ‘Globe’, its underpinning rich vocal and twinkly synth doubling calling to mind OMD and New Order, and the chanted “you got this” call and response oozing hope and self belief. A determined energy follows suit with subsequent tracks; the expansive, gothic urgency in ‘TV Flicker’, heartfelt, humane pop in ‘Little Gem’, and anthemic, voyaging psych/Kraut of ‘Dr. Pong’ all maintaining a directed, mesmerising focus.
The extended jam at the end of the latter is a regular device on the album, and while its production value carries a real depth of character, it’s these instrumental sections that add authenticity, giving the listener a taste of the band’s prowess in a live setting. This is certainly true of songs like the driven, Cure-esque ‘Star Vehicle’, and the harmonically masterful ‘Sing It Like We Used To’, which employs 80s gated reverb effects without sounding archaic or cheapening the drums.
‘Souvenirs’ dials back with its closer ‘Chelsea’, a gorgeous soaring arrangement that notedly utilises a Casiotone/CR78-esque clave beat and acoustic guitar, contrasting all that has preceded it. The song presents an alchemy of reverb-heavy desert guitar, hypnotic synth motifs, and achingly poignant lyricism, a vocal vessel revealing a deeper nostalgia, without the rose-tinted spectacles.
Pale Blue Eyes have clearly worked their socks off, and to produce something that carries integrity in putting to music the nature of reminiscence, all the while working tirelessly to fund it, is commendable. ‘Souvenirs’ is a visceral release of material that bookends the band’s formative chapter, and ushers in the next.
Words: Kieran Macdonald-Brown