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.