You don’t need to be an avid fan of The Naked & Famous to recognize the name or indeed the songs. When the New Zealand five piece released their debut album Passive Me, Aggressive You in 2010 their brand of atmospheric synth pop could be heard everywhere from football video games to teen drama series, particularly singles Punching In A Dream and the increasingly popular Young Blood. If you haven’t heard, the band were known for their atmospheric synth-pop trademark and though met with mixed responses, Passive Me, Aggressive You was considered a fun yet fairly innocent pop record. Surprising then that the band’s returning sophomore LP In Rolling Waves, is quite the opposite with a dark, moody and quite haunting feel. Have the alternative outfit suddenly grown up from their teen dream?
First things first, the music on the album is very mature. The level of songwriting on this record is a much more diverse affair than that of its predecessor with songs ranging from atmospheric synth stompers, to delicate acoustic ballads. Opening track A Stillness builds from twangy guitars into a menacingly epic affair with crashing drums, buzzing synths and fiercely sung vocals from front-woman Alisa Xayalith. This formula of a minimal introduction slowly picking up momentum is repeated again on the album with The Mess and We Are Leaving both starting as more sombre moments before bursting to life in a fashion The Naked & Famous have crafted to perfection. As soon as this musical seismic shift comes into being, the songs are instantly elevated to the point of epic-ness. Those moments of dramatic power pop are further showcased on lead single Hearts Like Ours, which combines an 80s influenced synth pop chorus with Xayalith’s powerful refrain that seem to detail the struggles of growing up and wanting life to start, “were alone but side by side” being a stand out lyric.
It would seem that although thoroughly gaining a more diverse approach with age, The Naked & Famous are struggling when it comes to their actual lives, or so the lyrical nature of certain songs would suggest. Throughout the album, the subject matter of heartbreak and disappointment seem almost constant, creating what I can only describe as a collection of hauntingly melancholy songs. Waltz, the band perhaps at their most adventurous with drum n bass rhythms, brooding synths and a whispered bass line, see’s Xayalith and guitarist Thom Powers detailing a sad tale of “a boy who is never gonna come unstuck”. Similarly the musical conversation of The Mess and the indecisive struggles portrayed in What We Want (they don’t know if you hadn’t guessed) are rather morose to say the least. Obviously hard times befall us all but this kind of misery is perhaps a little overbearing in the long run. As we reach the acoustic closing track A Small Reunion, the album feels like its petered off slightly which is a shame as it started so excitingly.
Of course without question the band have matured both in their songwriting and personality and In Rolling Waves as a whole is a very impressive work. The only thing standing in the way of a truly magnificent album is the level of fun to be had that came with their debut album’s fantastically euphoric singles. Had they been included on this album, a more level ground would have been achieved on an otherwise enjoyable but pessimistic record. Perhaps so determined to prove how they’ve grown, the band forgot their fans were won from having some fun, something you can never be too old to enjoy. If there’s one thing for certain however, In Rolling Waves has confirmed that there’s a lot of talent in the band and with any justice, they won’t be forgotten.
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