I posted this review on the Sputnik Music website last night.
I don't want to rag on The Naked and Famous. There's a lot to like about them. Their general sound is a good one for me, with lots of rolling synthesizers and both female and male lead singers. Their female vocalist, Alisa Xayalith (who handles about three quarters of the leads) is first-rate, and their male vocalist, Thom Powers, is solid at worst. Their songwriting, if not outstanding, isn't cringe worthy either. So what's my hesitance to full-throatedly recommend this album about?It comes down to this: I like Simple Forms. But I wanted to love it.
I think part of the problem is the large shadow cast by their breakthrough single. When this band first burst onto the international scene in 2010 with their debut album, Passive Me, Aggressive You, it was largely on the strength of the excellent lead single from that LP, "Young Blood". The song was a #1 hit in their native New Zealand, and a Platinum single here in the U.S., which isn't too shabby. They also had another charting single off of that album, "Punching in a Dream", but as often happens, I think that a lot of the success of that song was due to a ripple effect from "Young Blood".
The band's next two albums, In Rolling Waves (2013) and this one, have actually both been more consistent efforts overall than Passive Me. Unfortunately, neither had a single of the quality of "Young Blood" (although Simple Forms takes a pretty good shot at it; more about that in a minute). Consequently, each of those two follow-up LPs feels mildly disappointing. "Young Blood" set the expectations a little too high, and T/N/A/F, while still creating enjoyable music, hasn't been quite able to live up to that track's exalted standard.
There are a few highlights that I want to point out on this LP, though. The first is its aforementioned lead single, "Higher". This is a mid-tempo synth-pop anthem with a triumphant feel to it, powered by a particularly lovely lead vocal by Xayalith. In spite of the fact that "Punching in a Dream" actually charted higher, this is truly the second-strongest single that the band has ever released. Then there's "Laid Low", Simple Forms' follow-up single. It has some engaging synth work, and is also a pretty good song, in spite of the fact that it wasn't as successful as "Higher". And the closing number on the LP, "Rotten", might be my favorite track of all. This one has an interesting pattern of percussion, and a slight feel of the Australian bush to it. I especially like the way the song builds, and the way Xayalith's vocals are layered over one another. I can see why it wasn't released as a single -- it isn't necessarily as hook-laden or radio friendly as the other two tracks -- but in many ways, it might be the most effective song on the album.
So The Naked and Famous is still good with me. I continue to enjoy this band, and I'll definitely go ahead and pick up their next original studio LP. I absolutely liked this album. I'm just hoping that next time, they'll up their game just a smidgen more. They continue to be a solid band. But I think they've got a little better in them.
Rating: 3 of 5 stars