Sunday, March 27, 2011

Album Review: The Naked and Famous - Passive Me, Aggressive You (4/5)

When I first heard New Zealander band The Naked and Famous last year, I was interested but skeptical whether their debut album would be worthwhile. That first taste, "Punching in a Dream," was a hook-filled New Wave-inspired synth-based tune--in other words, not unlike a lot of indie pop/rock of late and sounding an awful lot like MGMT and its imitators (Empire of the Sun, I'm talking about you). Passive Me, Aggressive You turns out to be a rather enjoyable listen. It takes what has been good about much of the New Wave revival stuff and puts the emphasis on having great pop tunes.

Although the album's sound is cohesive, it takes enough interesting twists to keep it fresh throughout the somewhat lengthy set of 13 tracks. "All of This" kicks the album off with a prominent bass line, but withholds the power pop force that comes with later songs like the aforementioned "Punching in a Dream," which turns the amps up fall on the fuzzy guitars while melding female and male vocals, and "Young Blood," a breezy slice of synth and guitar-fueled pop that most recalls the head-bouncing appeal of MGMT's "Kids." "Frayed" keeps the volume up high while going a bit darker in tone. "The Sun" maintains an ominous mood but goes more electronic, delivering an unexpected but welcome late-night moodiness. Then "Eyes" lightens the tone with '80s pop optimism. "No Way" releases propulsive bursts of piano and electric guitar between its quieter vocal parts.

Halfway through the album's second half, the band shoots for its edgiest, loudest material with "Spank" and "Wolf in Geek's Clothing," which I don't like as much, although I do like the mellower, anthemic closing track "Girls Like You." Although they aren't taking a wholly new direction with their debut, they are mining familiar territory with skill, creating an engaging, enjoyable album.

Best: Young Blood, Punching in a Dream, All of This, The Sun

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