With singles like the infectious Young Blood and Punching In A Dream, it was no surprise that The Naked And Famous’ debut Passive Me, Aggressive You went down well with critics and fans alike. Capitalising on the exposure provided by their nomination for the BBC Sound Of 2011, the album had already gone straight to Number 1 in their homeland of New Zealand before its release in the UK in 2011.
The quintet’s anthemic synth pop was highly engrossing and while it was not necessarily doing anything new, songs such as Young Blood – with its fist-pumping melody and sense of teenage angst – were irresistible. Following a huge tour on the back of that debut, which saw them play over 200 shows around the world, the band are back with their second long-player, In Rolling Waves.
As with the band’s debut, In Rolling Waves is still very much a synth pop record, but it’s also one that feels less polished and shiny than its predecessor. It’s something that The Naked And Famous intended to do when they went back into the studio to record new material, with the band focused on creating an album that relied less on the backing tracks used on their debut – something that could be easily played live.
Opener A Stillness sets the tone for what’s to come, with the song kicking off with a guitar riff that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Laura Marling record, before a throbbing synth beat gives it some backbone. It’s more sedate than The Naked And Famous we’re used to, with Alisa Xayalith’s delicate vocals providing the perfect accompaniment to the wondering melody, but it’s also a captivating way to start things off.
The melancholic atmosphere signaled by the album opener is something that continues as the album progresses. Waltz is a menacing, understated example of this darker approach, with an intense, swarming synth line constantly rumbling throughout its duration, as Xayalith is joined by Thom Powers on lead vocals. It’s an unsettling track, one that is matched by the slow-burning Grow Old, until it gradually unravels into a cacophony of noise halfway through.
Yet while In Rolling Waves does show a new side to The Naked And Famous, they do not completely shed the pop sensibilities of their debut. The first single Hearts Like Ours is very much an anthem in the mould of Punching In A Dream, with pounding synths and soaring vocals, as Xayalith sings: “Half awake and almost dead/ keeping empty beds elsewhere/ we’re yet to bleed.”
Rolling Waves is another thrilling slice of electro-pop, one that features expansive guitars and a crunching synth line, as Xayalith’s vocals once again reach skyward. Then there’s the more dance-orientated I Kill Giants – a song that was meant to be on the band’s debut, but wasn’t finished in time – which is bursting with energy and enthusiasm, with glossy synths and a thoroughly catchy chorus.
But as the album moves into the latter stages, it goes in a slightly different direction again, finishing with a collection of emotive yearnings. This run in starts with the wistful What We Want, which is virtually an acoustic ballad, before the sparse, piano-led We Are Leaving confirms that The Naked And Famous are far more diverse than their debut suggested.
To Move With Purpose and closer A Small Reunion continue to demonstrate the band’s softer side, although with less conviction. And it’s for that reason In Rolling Waves does not quite achieve the heights of Passive Me, Aggressive You. Although the band’s second record is an impressive return – one with a great deal of ambition – it does lack focus at times. The potential is clearly there; The Naked And Famous just need to trim away some of the fat.