Saturday, 12 October 2013

The Naked and Famous "In Rolling Waves"

The Naked and Famous is different from the artists I usually write about. I must admit I’m surprised just how much I enjoy their music considering their music style is completely different from the norm of what I usually listen to. But at the same time, their music style is different in general. Now two albums in to their still relatively new career, the New Zealand band show no sign of giving in to musical norm.

At first listen, I felt there was a similarity in their style to that of Metric; an indie rock sound with keyboards being the most heavily noticed instrument. The similarities may have been there on the band’s debut album Passive Me, Aggressive You, but for the bands most recent album, In Rolling Waves, The Naked and Famous decided to turn up their level of experimentation in sounds, production and even in song writing.

The albums first track, A Stillness is, I find, a curious choice to start the album. The song is as interesting of a mix of keyboard sounds and acoustic guitars as well as Alisa Xayalith’s soft soothing voice. By the time the song hits the three minute mark, it has already gone through about three different variations of acoustic/keyboard rhythms keeping its listeners attention, and it just keeps building. While the song does an excellent job displaying the band and albums all around sound, I’m not sure it is the best opening track for the album, some people may love it, but some people may be sceptical to listen to the rest of the album. For the latter group, I’d urge to continue listening and give a few more songs a chance.

The albums leading single, Hearts Like Ours adds more electric guitars to the punch and remains catchy and mellow all the way through. As mellow as the song is, it maintains a happy young and free feeling. For some, I have found, the song may be a bit repetitive. If by the second or third verse you start to feel like the song isn’t going anywhere, than this song may not be for you. I have found this to be the case for one or two people.

Guitarist/vocalist Thom Powers gets his first lead vocal spot on the album with the song Waltz (with the exception of the bridge on Hearts Like Ours). Just like songs he sang on the band’s debut, his singing style s the perfect partner for Alisa’s, very laid back and soft spoken. Waltz, being a duet between the two vocalists, displays just this, as they harmonize their vocals perfectly and switch lead vocal duties back and forth comfortably. The two also combine their voices well on the song The Mess, as well as on other points of the album.

By the time you get to the albums fourth track, Rolling Waves, you may find that the beat and pace of the songs are rather slow. Rolling Waves is one of the faster paced songs of the album, though by most other bands standards the pace of the song would still be considered slow, it provides a good change for the album.

Probably my least favourite moment on the album is the song Grow Old. It is another long slow paced song, but that’s not a bad thing at all. I just really do not enjoy the vocal effects used for Thom’s voice on the song, which takes up well over half of the song. While it makes up for the fact that the song would be nothing significant without the vocal effects, it just gets old and frankly a bit too weird at a point. The bridge of the song, which features Alisa on lead vocals, does a valiant job at picking up the slack. It’s just too bad that it takes four minutes to get to it.

The band relapses with Golden Girl, the shortest song on the album. I suppose it is supposed to serve as some sort of interlude to the album, but it’s catchiness really makes it worth listening to. The song completely contradicts Grow Old in that while Grow Old ran about four minutes too long, Golden Girl ran about two minutes too short.

By this point in the album, there have been a number of upbeat and inspirational songs, I enjoy how the band can freely go from gloomy tunes to happy sounds. I Kill Giants fits in this description with its late 90’s alternative backbeat mixed in with the bands originality. What We Want continues this upbeat sound and also shows a bit of an 80’s influence. Frankly, there have been a few moments thus far where the band sounds like they know how to make songs as catchy as their 80’s predecessors, but I find this songs, just like I Kill Giants, adds in the bands originality very well.

One trick up the bands sleeve that they use numerously on the album is their ability to start a song slowly and have it gradually pick up as the song goes, ending it completely different from how it started. Songs like the opening track and The Mess come to mind as well as To Move With Purpose. The band changes that up a bit on the song We Are Leaving, which gradually picks up as the song goes, starting off with just keyboards, then gradually adding more instruments as the song goes on, but rather than the song ending full of instruments in a wall of sound, it ends the way it started with just keyboards and vocals.

The song ends with one last duet between Thom and Alisa. A Small Reunion brings back the acoustic guitar heard in the songs opening track, only this time the guitar is the more prominent instrument. Even when the keyboards and synthesizer sounds over-power the song, the acoustic guitar can still be heard keeping the song innocent. The song provides a good farewell to the album, I think it is the violin sounds, I’m not quite sure, but the music just sounds like the end is coming. The song makes me want more, thanks in no small part to the last minute and a half or so where the acoustic guitars turn to electric guitars and the drum beat intensifies to probably the heaviest they have been on the entire album.

While In Rolling Waves, and The Naked and Famous in general seem like they are just another radio friendly pop-rock act, they are far from it. I’m not sure I’d go so far as to call the band progressive, but they show intelligence and maturity beyond their years in ways that bands coined as “progressive rock” back in the 70’s showed. The songs may be heavily keyboard and synth-driven, as a lot of todays biggest hit songs are, but the band doesn’t seem to make keyboard and synth-driven songs for the sake of having their song played after the latest Katy Perry song, but rather to further exemplify their writing talents and their desire to be different from everyone else. While the album has, albeit just a few less than terrific moments, the uniqueness of the album in general makes this album worth the acclaim it has been getting.


What We Want” –­ I’m finding my choices for highlights to be tougher and tougher to make lately. I was strongly considering having I Kill Giants as the highlight. Both tracks would be my biggest recommendations for the album, but while I Kill Giants remains upbeat throughout the song, What We Want mixes both the upbeat sounds of the band with the more serious side of their sound. It does a terrific job at being taken seriously until the songs chorus, which I think is the best chorus on the entire album. To my chagrin, there is no video of the song so I can't post it for readers to listen. 


8.5 (Out of 10)

Track List:

"A Stillness"  
"Hearts Like Ours"  
"Rolling Waves"  
"The Mess"  
"Grow Old"  
"Golden Girl"  
"I Kill Giants"  
"What We Want"  
"We Are Leaving"  
"To Move with Purpose"  
"A Small Reunion"  

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