I’ll admit that I gave Passive Me, Aggressive You, the first album by the Naked and Famous more than a few spins. I was originally sucked in by the radio-ready hits of “Young Blood” and “Punching in a Dream.” After that, things got weird.
The rest of the album is a meditation in poorly disguised aggression. Perhaps poorly disguised from even the band, and almost certainly lost on the listener. Extended interludes threaten to cut the listeners patience in two, using repetition and slowly disintegrating soundscapes like dull knives. Grand crescendos are hinted at but rarely reached. More often than not, the album played out like the beat-less interludes of club hits, where the audience sways in torturous anticipation of the beat dropping.
It rarely does. In rolling waves shows that little has changed.
Right away, it’s apparent that this disc is cut from the same cloth as the first. The opener, without the weight you expect from a trigger cut, takes the band’s familiar soundscapes and layers amateurish 70’s folk over them. Haven’t we been here before?
“Hearts Like Ours” picks up exactly where “Punching in a Dream” left off. The two might be twins, separated at birth. Sadly, the former lacks the immediate impact of the latter.
“Waltz” starts to get into more serious songwriting and exploits the chemistry between singers, and significant others, Alisa Xalayath and Thom Powers. Finally. Tension between male and female vocals is a powerful tool in creating musical suspense, and it just doesn’t happen that much on this album. It’s working for the XX, sometimes at the expense of anything else. When the Naked and Famous break down the walls between the sexes is when they are most satisfying.
Or when they break into massive choruses punctuated by peaceful electro, as on “Rolling Waves.” As much as a critic wants to hear a band push the limits of their sound, as soon as this chorus drops, you remember that this is what they’re all about. Should they be faulted for not doing more than that? Clearly, that is what I’m doing.
I have no doubt that this release is going to be welcomed by fans looking for a regular installment of the same sound they know and love. Many groups have solid careers built on just such maneuvers, but it seems there is a fine line between having a sound and just going through the motions.
As the album wears on, the expansive moods begin to feel tired, like somnambulant attempts at capturing audience attention. The torpor is evident in the playing of the band, and by the time the mood changes, my focus and motivation for even listening are lost. The artiness of the interludes lends a gravitas to the whole affair that is amusing once the New Age electro pop sets in. I feel like I’ve been waiting much more significant than a spacy Top 40 song, but that’s the payoff. That’s what I waited for. Maybe I’m overthinking it, but I feel a little cheated. The reach of this band currently exceeds its grasp. With a little time, that might change. For now, the Naked and Famous are up to business as usual.