As far as debut albums go, Pillow Queens can stand over In Waiting with a huge sense of achievement. It’s an accomplished and impactful release which has refined all the best aspects of the band’s previous output. The Dublin-based quartet has been reluctant to define their sound with a label as limiting as “punk” or “indie” or “rock”. In truth, they’re all fair descriptions and In Waiting pulls in those differing influences, mashes them up and spits them out. Genre hardly matters when the music’s good, does it?
The album is hinged around brilliant layers of harmonies and hooks, and it’s no wonder some of the tracks have already achieved some commercial success and placements on-screen. “Handsome Wife” is a perfectly crafted tune, while “HowDoILook” is one of the album’s stand out tracks. Its stroke of genius is to open with a beautifully catchy chorus, lodging the hook firmly in your head before retreating, just to let it build again. Both tracks are instantly engaging, which in an increasingly competitive single dominated industry, is an invaluable quality.
On “Gay Girls”, lead singer Sarah Corcoran dials up the strong Dublin accent. It’s used sparingly, like an instrument in its own right, adding syllables and extra inflections of meaning to the words as she sings. “Gay Girls” explodes with a brilliant chorus, throws in a key shift like a release of a pressure that’s been building up and then climaxes with the repeated choir backed chorus cry of “I won’t worry about the Gay Girls, I pray for them when I wring my hands.”
Throughout In Waiting, Pillow Queens touch on issues of sexuality and religion. While many acts write critically of the church and its influence in Ireland, the references here are more towards family occasions and tradition but still reflect the inevitable inner conflict when the two worlds collide. “Gay Girls” and its excellent video, directed by Kate Dolan, is a prime example.
The mood is positive, uplifting and heartwarming, with tenderness in “Holy Show” and “Harvey” and more direct references to the church in “Child of Prague” and “Liffey”. “Brothers” is a celebration of the men in the band members’ lives, sparked by the death of someone close to the band. The line, “There goes the man I want to be, I love my brother and my brother loves me,” jumps out of the song, and with the simple repeated refrain, it’s an anthem-ready track with lyrical depth.
Another standout moment is “Liffey”. Guitars wail and cymbals crash as the song instantly consumes. Ringing harmonics and layered vocals hint towards an undercurrent of chaos, but the persistent kick drum and rolling toms anchor everything in place. As quickly as it engulfed, “Liffey” retreats and we’re left with an organ drone and the two lead vocal lines soaring. It’s an ambitious song with so much going on but executed brilliantly.
“Donaghmede” closes the album on another experimental note, hinting that this is a band with even more scope than In Waiting suggests. It opens in singer/songwriter style, Corcoran’s voice and guitar in isolation. Bass and drums creep in, with reverse guitar effects filling the space between lyrics, before the song explodes to a euphoric finish with swirling synth and a filtered, fuzzy bass that lands like a roundhouse punch. Without feeling at all out of place, it’s different to anything so far and is a hell of a way to go out on a debut album.
Too often bands set on a genre or sound and suddenly their songs all sound like slightly different versions of each other. On In Waiting Pillow Queens embrace the flexibility of not defining themselves, of having a sound but being able to experiment around the fringes of it. Even if that wasn’t the intention, they’ve nailed it.