New Zealand electric rock quintet The Naked and Famous’ much-anticipated sophomore album, In Rolling Waves, demonstrates the band’s intentions to step away from their poppiest moments and to take a new direction with their sound. After experiencing great success with their critically acclaimed debut album Passive Me, Aggressive You in 2010, tracks like “Young Blood” were played over and over on radio stations and popular television shows. However, the new album features a more mellowed-out vibe and an increased infusion of traditional band instruments within its tracks, a refreshing twist from Passive Me…’s dance-pop summer-loving anthems.
The album’s first track, “A Stillness”, opens with a steady four-chord guitar riff and melts into one steady, drawn-out synth beat. Lead singer Alisa Xayalith also manages to have more of a central feature on this track, singing most of the song rather than contributing to a duet with fellow band member Thom Powers. Right away the album dishes out a more matured and evolved sound that sets up a hope that it will branch out into something new further along in the album. However, the following track, Hearts Like Ours, takes a welcome step backward into the band’s well-known radio-friendly pop sound with its use of steady synthetic drum beats and Xayalith’s single-toned series of hooks and choruses. Within this album, the band has managed to progress in its artistic sound but still stay true to its original roots. The only difference that can be noted is the lack of upbeat feel, allowing the track to be less of a carefree youth anthem and more of a relaxed by-the-fireplace tune.
As the album continues, it becomes clear that The Naked and Famous’ intent is to establish a new sound. The group manages to accomplish that with their moody, somewhat darkened tone that appears simpler and has less of a frantic pace. However, by the sixth track, the focus is lost on the album’s overall eclectic range and turned to the impatience of waiting for the bout of auditory post-adolescent depression to end, as slowed tempos, drawn-out song lengths and hazily whispered choruses become fatiguing rather than seductive.
The songs take their sweet time to build and release, leaving a indistinct line between a track’s ending and another one’s beginning. In particular, “Grow Old” has a seemingly never-ending length of six minutes and 36 seconds, and many tracks on the album extend beyond the five-minute mark. Each track is filled with enough ideas to satisfy a three to four minute length requirement, but it feels as though the band’s over-eagerness to stuff its album with an impressive amount of lyrical content has worn out most of the songs into unnecessary five-minute ballads. The Naked and Famous have not quite figured out when it is appropriate to conclude a tune. While the band may have much to say, it’s still trying to say everything at once, and it doesn’t always work.
The Naked and Famous’ second studio is a bold move, experimenting with sharp sporadic synths, long beats, and guitar infusions. Their newly developed sound has allowed for a more gradual transition from popular dance beats to a ripened and comfortable sound, but the band still lacks the refined touches that will allow them to uncover their true identity. The experimentation with new techniques and instrumentation is evident within this album, but lyrically the band still has some growing up to do. In Rolling Waves shows that the band’s new sound has definite potential, though they will still have to tighten up their bolts in order to create something truly inspirational.