Tuesday 24 September 2013

Album Review: The Naked and Famous | In Rolling Waves

//  01 A Stillness  // 02 Hearts Like Ours  //  03 Waltz  //  04 Rolling Waves  //  05 The Mess  //
06 Grow Old  //  07 Golden Girl  //  08 I Kill Giants  //  09 What We Want  //  10 We Are Leaving  //
11 To Move With Purpose  //  12 A Small Reunion  //

Second albums are always going to be tricky. Trying to please old fans and hopefully gain new followers as your musical journey grows and expands is always a difficult feat to achieve. And when your debut was as good as The Naked And Famous's 'Passive Me Aggressive You' you're going to  face even further challenges. Not ones to take things lying down though the New Zealand natives have delivered one of the most impressive albums this year crushing any fears of despair contemplating if they could ever top their previous effort. This more than answers that question with a big fat yes!

Now if you were expecting an immediate, hit after hit album, then you're probably in the wrong place with the average length of songs being 4-5 minutes long. Whilst some might say this is too long I've always found myself revelling in tracks that take a conscious effort to be listened to. Ones that grow from their insecure beginnings consuming everything in their path and TNAF seem to have this talent tied down like it's second nature.

Having toured the world for over 2 years off the back of their debut record it would seem the band have come a long way from their MGMT and Passion Pit comparisons and with band members Thom Powers and Aaron Short taking on production duties it could only have this promising effect. This is all evidently displayed in the albums opener A Stillness. A complete change in direction for the five piece it sees a rather dark and solemn approach through prominent guitar strumming and a vast space between verses that create an almost blossoming effect as the track subtly shifts in to more upbeat rhythms towards its end.

All is not lost from its predecessor though with Hearts Like Ours seeing a comparative return to their previous counterpart with driving synths and complacent lyricism, its overpowering basslines and melodic hook based chorus's remind us exactly why we fell in love with the band those 4 long years ago. Modifications to their palette are ever so subtle but tell a much grander story as they build on their success taking their sound from its school choir-like state and transferring it to a Sydney Opera House-esque grandeur. By the time Rolling Waves comes around things are heating up nicely. Once the short skippy intro settles down we're welcomed to a refreshingly bright and prosperous number as Alisa Xayalith channels everything she's got in to battling the ambush of swooshing synths and piercingly beautifully melodies that swell and uplift in a magic like way. Meanwhile Alisa and Powers engage in an equitable exchange of affairs on The Mess taking it in turns to divulge their lost hope. Another slow burner it's not until its final 2 minutes before things take a twist and you become embodied in the swelling guitars and synthy drones before they let you free of their icy grasp.

My favourite on the album, Grow Old, comes at a perfect time allowing you a moment to catch a breather after the whirlwind that came before. Through auto-tuned vocals reminiscent of Imogen Heap Thom Powers manages to create an emotional bond through heartfelt proclamations of a something that was and never will be the same again. "I could lie to be gentle, We will never be the same. The more adamant i am that it’s the surface, the more the walls begin to flake" echoes Thom as Alisa's breathy backing vocals leave their permanent mark "Don't talk to me. Keeping count as if the hurt could balance", almost as if giving the other side to the argument.

Elsewhere I Kill Giants offers up the most effervescent pop effort yet with arpeggiated synths and heavy hitting percussion creating a devastating combustion. With glossy tones and an unrivalled enthusiasm it could have easily fitted in amongst their debut record but thankfully finds its place here bringing its infectious chorus and glimmering sunshine vibes to upkeep the diverse sound rooted through 'In Rolling Waves'. 

What We Want sees the return of the acoustic guitar strums once more adding a second dynamic to the record as the synths take a backseat. A soft and solemn piece reflecting the bands inner core. Simultaneously We Are Leaving offers the most sombre moment with its quietly led intro and delicate voicings. Built around a lonesome piano and swirling synths the track breaks in to a short explosion of drums before retreating to skippy sidestick hits. It would seem the last half of the album has become an open book of reflective compositions, each tugging at your heartstrings in their own special way.

As we round up on A Small Reunion we get a glimpse at one of their most contrasting tracks yet. As plaintive harmonies begin to swell, slowly but surely you can feel the track rising as you become engrossed in a hurricane of sounds as they build and build until the climatic finale releases all the assembled tension. For an album all about progressing I feel they've done a stunning job at managing to keep things on the straight and narrow. Granted it doesn't groundbreakingly step out of line but to follow up such an acclaimed debut with something far less radio friendly yet so pure and raw has been a bold move that I'm sure will pay dividends for the band. This is a very welcome return


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