SOMEWHAT DAMAGED RECORDS
SOMEWHAT DAMAGED RECORDS

4/5 stars

While I’ve always been a big fan of the alternative and rock scene — especially artists like Alt-J — I’ve never actually sat down and listened to the relatively well-known alternative rock band The Naked and Famous. This group, composed of Alisa Xayalith on vocals and keyboards, Thom Powers on vocals and guitar, Aaron Short on keyboard, David Beadle on bass and Jesse Wood on drums, is a post-punk revival band from New Zealand. They burst onto the music scene with their first single, “Young Blood,” off their debut album Passive Me, Aggressive You, which became a worldwide hit. After a great deal of touring, they returned home to start working on their sophomore album, In Rolling Waves.

Despite not having heard of The Naked and Famous before, I can see why many are drawn to their music. In Rolling Waves opens with “A Stillness,” a track that goes against the norm by having the instrumentation be the main focus. Filled with both acoustic guitar and synth, The Naked and Famous expose a different side to their listeners. AlthoughXayalith’s soft vocals are on this piece, they are almost secondary and lost in the background to the riffs and beat.

This instrumental trend continues into the next song, “Hearts Like Ours,” which is also the lead single of the album. This song channels The Naked and Famous’ roots with plenty of electro-pop effects andXayalith’s strong vocals. However, the heavy presence of pop reminds us that although the band may have altered their sound, they’re still the group that won fans over with Passive Me, Aggressive Youand have only become only a little more polished.

However, my personal favorite from their new release is “Waltz,” a track that features both Xayalithand Powers. I was blown away by the unexpected juxtaposition between Powers’ soft-spoken voice and the powerful words he sings. At first, Powers’ voice serenades the listener, but with the gradual introduction of drums followed by Xayalith’s voice, the song becomes full and rhythmic with spaciousness and emotion, just like the dance the song is aptly titled for.

This trend of profoundness continues in “Grow Old,” which is the longest track on the album. However, every part of the song —  from the soft synth opening to the weighty instrumental lulls — adds to the almost passive, accepting tone. The haunting, regretful words are jarring: “This wasn’t supposed to be special,” “You’ve made your bed and now sleep in it” and “I wasn’t supposed to feel ashamed.” The Naked and Famous are great lyricists, and it’s a gift that we have the privilege to experience music that focuses on the lyrical quality and not just the commercial value. These songs are very reminiscent of the work of The xx, an indie-pop group who are known for their impactful words and sparse background instrumentation.

The Naked and Famous remain uniquely themselves. One of the band’s unique characteristics is that during the production of the album they wanted to make sure that whatever they produced could easily be played live, so they recorded each song without backing tracks. Their philosophy shows just how dedicated they are to creating a pure sound. Although this is just their sophomore album, the band’s ability to create hauntingly beautiful music is sure to attract listeners — even those who may not be predisposed to alternative rock. In fact, I’m probably going to be playing their whole album on repeat on Spotify for the next few days.

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