My feelings about New Zealand band The Naked and Famous's first album, "Passive Me, Aggressive You", verge on the ridiculous. They had simply managed to create such a unique synth/electronic/pop sound that was so fresh, memorable and fun that was I completely hooked. Ever since, I've just had huge expectations of the possibilities of this album. Does it completely live up to my expectations---no--and in many ways I think you could argue this is a weaker record, but it's good to keep in mind that the album I'm comparing it to one of my 2010 albums of the year. At the end of the day, this album is more mature and moodier with a wider range of instrumentation--and still has moments of epic bombastic highs.
This album starts off with a bang-- "A Stillness", "Hearts Like Ours", and "Rolling Waves" are three of the best tracks off the album. Album opener, "A Stillness" also shows the broader musical range of the band on this album with it's acoustic guitar driven edge. "Waltz" has a classy duet of Thom's and Alisa's vocals floating over each others which creates something really special (this layering appears on a couple different songs actually). "The Mess" and "I Kill Giants" are both solid hits for me as well. Not spectacular, but consistently enjoyable and will be go to songs as they can fit many different moods. "A Small Reunion" is a beautiful epic close with the appearance of a building vibrant strings section that just makes so much sense paired with TNAF's signature synth/drum/guitar sound.
In fact, I wish they would have played around more with the strings on several latter middle half songs like "We Are Leaving", "Grow Old", "Golden Girl" and "What We Want." They have great ends but tepid and rather boring beginnings. The addition of some interesting instruments on the first halves of these songs could have really saved them. It's not that I insist all TNAF songs be upbeat--but to have several in a row with the same song structure (minimal and quiet for about 2-3 minutes, then get aggressive), it just takes away the drama of the songs. It let's them bleed together which is just as bad on an album as it is when your clothes in the washing machine all come out hot pink. Also, I felt that nothing even the singles on the album reached the same heights of "Punching in a Dream" from their debut.
That said--we're just a few months short of the end of the year here, and this is definitely one of the pop standouts for me. MGMT and Grouplove both have albums dropping today too, and I have to think this was somewhat of an intentional thing as these bands often get compared. In that tossup--hands down, it's TNAF. This album is just more cohesive with better hooks as well as an increasing depth of lyrics and atmosphere which I think really makes them stand out. Final round win for the Kiwis and here's hoping to even better progression and song structures on their next venture!
For fans of bands like CHVRCHES, M83, and Passion Pit.