New Zealand band hit in U.S.

Alex Belz

If you haven’t heard of The Naked and Famous yet, you might want to get on YouTube or iTunes and look them up. Their second single, “Young Blood,” was the first song in three years by a New Zealand artist to top the New Zealand charts. They’re gaining popularity in Europe as well. It’s only a matter of time before they will take the United States by storm, too.

Their music is an electronic pop style that somehow manages to crossbreed artists like The Bangles and The Postal Service into one wonderful whole. Their debut album, “Passive Me, Aggressive You,” is six months old to international audiences but has just finally been released to the United States.

The title of the album comes from a line in the first song of the album, “All of This.” The song describes a romantic relationship falling apart, forcing the couple’s friends and family into their arguments. It points out the irony of their personalities, “passive me, aggressive you.” I can’t speak for the personalities of the band members of The Naked and Famous, but there’s certainly nothing passive about their music.

It builds from that first track. The drums and music has a much faster tempo than the vocals in almost every song in the first five tracks, leaving the listener waiting for an end to the rising tension in the music. They get an end to the tension finally in “Young Blood,” the seventh track off the album, an electronic-heavy song that somehow recalls dance music of the eighties and punk music of the seventies. The song’s chorus offers a comforting message: love is bittersweet, but you can “fall back in love eventually.”

The band uses an interesting interplay of male and female vocals, occasionally as a conversational tool and other times to deliver a joint message in their music. The Matt Sharp-like vocals of Thom Powers blend well with singer Alisa Xayalith’s speak-singing.

After “Young Blood,” we’re treated to the wonderful “No Way,” a track which, for a minute or two, breaks from the electronic style of earlier tracks and delivers a more traditional slow ballad. If you’re not at least humming the chorus by the end of the song, you might not have a heart or soul.

The album caps off with the excellent “Girls Like You,” a song from the male perspective that on first listen sounds like it’s about a girl that every guy wishes he could summon the courage to talk to, “Don’t you know people write songs,” the chorus asks, “about girls like you?”

The album is a great listen. But there’s a little bit of filler on the album. “Spank,” “Jilted Lovers” and “A Wolf in Geek’s Clothing” are tracks that are decent, but placed in the middle of the rest of the album, they stick out like Canadian coins in loose change. They’ve got the same shine, but they’re not the real currency of this album.

There’s also a bit of dissonance on the album, as though the band isn’t sure exactly what their sound should be. “Spank,” and “Jilted Lovers,” especially, feel like  experiments in branching out from the more rock influenced sound of earlier tracks. The slow, static-filled melodies on these tracks sound like they were written for a different album and just don’t coalesce into the greater whole of “Passive Me, Aggressive You.”

So far, The Naked and Famous’ album hasn’t been big in the States, but keep your eyes and ears open, because they’ve got talent. There’s some good tracks and good music here.

And give it time. Once they find a more consistent sound, their next album may just be a hit. In the States, in New Zealand, everywhere.