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Pillow Queens - Leave the Light On Music Album Reviews

Pillow Queens - Leave the Light On Music Album Reviews
The Dublin rock quartet’s second album considers the toll of living up to expectations—romantic, platonic, and societal—with a new gravitas that smothers some of the band’s fire.

Pillow Queens make the kind of noise that tends to flourish live, roared back by the faithful: burnished heartland euphoria, defiant lyricism bolstered by ragged harmonies, lashings of pride, and an unabashed love of crescendos. But when the four women self-released their debut in September 2020, four years after forming, gigs were off the agenda. Other bands might have held fast until they stood a better chance of breaking beyond their local scene; in name and theme, In Waiting extolled urgency, and so joint guitarists-bassists-frontwomen Pamela Connolly and Sarah Corcoran, drummer Rachel Lyons, and guitarist Cathy McGuinness leapt. It paid off. Their first album transcended the physical limitations of its moment—perhaps because it reminded listeners of the live energy they were missing, perhaps thanks to the writing.

Pillow Queens’ optimistic anthems-in-the-making about queerness, love, and Catholicism took this DIY band as far as a spot on James Corden’s The Late Late Show, where they sang about forsaking the promised safety of a religious upbringing for a life of adventure: “God, give me glory, or don’t/I’ll take my lot/Just start the show and/Cement your feet and take the jump,” Connolly pleaded through a tense jaw on “Liffey.” (One model for the Pillow Queens template is the boisterous, emo, Tegan half of Tegan and Sara’s classic The Con.) With normality somewhat resumed, the sense of potential in their music was theirs to realize on album two. But Leave the Light On loses a bit of puff from its lungs.

When it endures, the magic that got Pillow Queens here remains irresistible—though it’s most apparent on a song that lays out the cost of receiving that kind of attention. Their debut’s “HowDoILook” found freedom from bodily anxieties in love; on “Hearts & Minds,” being visible on stage and in photoshoots brings them roaring right back. “I’ll take it from myself, I’ll save it for the room,” Connolly sings with the kind of declarative fervor that has made Sam Fender an icon in the UK—although she compares herself unfavorably with such male artists who appear born to the stage: “He looks divine from the side/Throws himself around the light,” she sings. “Helps the healing of the brokenhearted/There’s that face again.” Meanwhile: “Now I’ve got the job,” she sighs, “suck in the gut.” The song vacillates from determination to an impending sense of defeat, then a lonely middle eight becomes a double-time sprint, sharpening, squalling, and rediscovering the carefree joy that gets bands off the starter blocks in the first place. In an era of ambivalent stardom, whether Mitski or Billie, few acts have detailed the balance sheet with as much grace.

Leave the Light On often considers the toll of living up to expectations, in romantic, platonic, and societal terms. Unfortunately, you also sometimes get the sense of it with regards to following up a beloved album, with the band revealing a new inclination toward gravitas that smothers some of their fire. Several songs lose power from excessive run times: “Be By Your Side” would be a fine opener at half the length if it simply ignited the desire that Connolly yearns to unleash (“I wanna feel every thought ’til my body drops dead”) instead of layering on cantering percussion and encore-worthy cresting guitar. “The Wedding Band,” Pillow Queens’ ode to their mutual bond, has another heart-tugging, spotlit vocal turn from Connolly but then it all turns a touch landfill, underselling what should be their us-against-the-world anthem.

That ambiguous album title expresses tenderness, bravery (perhaps when said to a new lover), and caution, and Pillow Queens have said they hope Leave the Light On “encourages duality.” There are real moments of nuance here, especially when Corcoran surveys a departing partner on the doo-woppy, bittersweet “House That Sailed Away” and greets the resurgence of old, evasive patterns with grace: “You’ll search forever/I want that for you,” she sings keenly, recognizing her ex’s immutable character instead of trying to change it.

But other songs get mired in confusion (the sweetly dissonant “My Body Moves,” about idealizing a peaceful aging process; the brooding tempest of “Delivered” wanly contrasted by knotty, oblique lyrics) or reach for serious and impersonal character studies. “Well Kept Wife” is nearly as meek as its subject, a woman buried by motherhood; “No Good Woman” offers well-meaning but soggy bonhomie as it observes a woman crushed by exploitative men and by the drinks she consumes to survive them. While Pillow Queens have said, understandably, that they want to avoid being pigeonholed, Leave the Light On seems to suffer from a case of stage fright.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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Pillow Queens - Leave the Light On Music Album Reviews Pillow Queens - Leave the Light On Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Wednesday, April 13, 2022 Rating: 5

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