Favorite Bands: The Naked and Famous

So I’ve had “Rolling Waves” on repeat around here lately. (I mean, always, but moreso recently.) It got me thinking that I haven’t really “dived” into what I love about the band itself, as it were. I’ve talked about other favorite bands in the past, such as The Replacements and Brakes and, always, The Mary Chain, but never this one.

I first heard The Naked and Famous back in college. Their debut, Passive Me, Aggressive You, was actually new territory for me at the time. I was still exploring my music tastes; I’d come out of my indie summer listening to Cults and Treats and Touchdown. Passive was indietronica that offered up distorted vocals and guitar. Shattered in the most thrilling of ways. And it felt like college: I mean, one of the songs is even called “Young Blood.”

I don’t have memories of when I first heard In Rolling Waves. I like it better than Passive, although “Girls Like You” is amazing. I think In Rolling Waves is just so epic; it’s TNAF bursting out of the mold they set for themselves with their debut. There’s no 8-bit distortion to be found on the album; instead there’s acoustics and the Wall of Sound tinge that’s become TNAF signature. I mean, “Rolling Waves” literally sounds like waves crashing when the chorus hits. “A Small Reunion” and “I Kill Giants” get in on that action as well.

TNAF proved themselves able to slow things down, though, with “A Still Heart,” which is acoustic covers of their most well-known songs. You really get to appreciate the lyrics. It’s interesting to hear the slow buzzing that’s another TNAF trademark become translated into guitar lines.

As for their lyrics themselves, I find them moving. They’re self-reflective and discuss a weird mix of letting go, throwing yourself into the new, and celebrating the past. In “A Small Reunion,” it’s “here’s to me/and here’s to you.” It’s in that spirit of self-reflection that I’m writing this post, I suppose.

Have you heard any of TNAF’s work? What are your favorite songs or albums?

Throwback Thursday: “Passive Me, Aggressive You” by The Naked and Famous

It’s hard to believe that this album came out 11 years ago. It holds up so well, and is one of those rare albums that has standouts beyond just the singles (“Punching in a Dream,” “All of This,” “Young Blood,” and “Girls Like You,” for those following along at home).

The Naked and Famous have been around since 2007, but it wasn’t until they released this album that they really started getting traction. “Young Blood,” the first single, was a massive hit, and it’s not hard to see why. The song has jangly, strumming, guitars, with piercing synths. Lead singer Alisa Xayalith’s voice is distinctive right out of the gate: it’s not shrill, but high and confident, veering into an almost whisper when the song calls for it. The lyrics themselves are iconic: “We’re only young and naive still/We require certain skills.”

As for the other singles, “Punching in a Dream” has a similar sound to “Young Blood.” Those strumming synthesizers, those drums, those echoing guitars. Of the singles, I think I like “Girls Like You” the best. It slows things down and introduces us to Thom Powers, whose voice is much softer than Xayalith’s. They provide a nice counterpoint to each other.

I did say that there were other good songs from Passive Me, Aggressive You besides the singles, so let’s talk about those, too. One of my favorites is “No Way.” It’s so soft and acoustic to start with. Xayalith’s voice follows along, measured; she sustains the quietude of the lyrics perfectly. When the song explodes into a crunch, the progression feels natural and earned. (TNAF explores similar sounds in their follow-up album In Rolling Waves.) Meanwhile, “Spank” is distorted and muffles Xayalith’s voice; the whole song has a tight and tense rhythm.

It’s interesting that after the splash of this album, TNAF has – not faded, exactly, but they’re not as big. Their work has remained consistent without being repetitive ever since Passive Me, Aggressive You, and they’ve also branched out into remix work. I revisit TNAF regularly, especially In Rolling Waves, but I’ll always love this album for both the nostalgia factor and the jolt of indie electronica.