Zachary Cole Smith has overcome a multitude of problems to make this intensely powerful album
Album Review: The Naked and Famous - Passive Me, Aggressive You (Fiction)
Radar Award winners demonstrate that isolation can result in a glorious melting pot of pop perfection
Core duo Thom Powers (fittingly, like a superhuman Mr Yorke) and Alisa Xayalith (approximately 334 points in Scrabble) embrace guitar-gilded electro pop with an unrefined, outsider’s poise and artfulness that set them apart from the identikit ’80s revivalists rolling synthfully off the major-label conveyor belt the past two years. TN&F look as much to Pendulum, ‘Swastika Eyes’-era Primal Scream and modern-day Radiohead as Hurts, and advance the cause of poptronica several leap years as a result.
As the priest said to the prostitute, the trick’s in the juxtapositions. A shimmery, Top Gun-worthy cut like ‘Eyes’ might seem retro and mawkish if it didn’t follow ‘The Sun’ – a pop ‘Everything In Its Right Place’ laced with skittering beats, Hendrix guitar squalls and electric piano, looped onto a monotone whisper-rap. Boasting synths as bright as ‘Stars’ and an arc-welding buzz-guitar riff, ‘Young Blood’ could see them tagged as this year’s ‘Kids’ copyists… were it not followed by ‘No Way’, a gossamer acoustic number that explodes into a starburst chorus of epic fuzz that sounds like Sleigh Bells trying to soundtrack Avatar 2.
The desperate rave-rock thumper ‘Spank’ slithers in on cranky guitars and feedback; ‘All Of This’ hobbles its otherwise massive potential for heavy rotation with blatant swearing; ‘Frayed’ coasts itchily along on a beat made out of dial tones. There’s an organic texture, depth and colour here so often lacking in the machine-tooled world of production-line pop. It’s as if TN&F have been made up of all the rough edges smoothed off every major chart hit since 1984.
Their refusal of all things feel-good only adds to the stylistic tension. There’s lots of mental anguish, psychic bruises and “Tearing at the seams” on ‘Frayed’; their most ecstatic hit tune, ‘Punching In A Dream’, concerns violent nightmares; and at the very least ‘Spank’ details a global pandemic, at worst a zombie apocalypse. ‘The Sun’ is all paranoia, recriminations and the terror of lost narcotic hours, while closer ‘Jilted Lovers’ teeters into all-out psychosis, with Alisa’s sublime coo cracking: “Voices in my head multiply/I am such a mess”. A classic case of ugly and beautiful: TN&F’s passive melodicism and aggressive innovation clash in a dazzling blaze of psych/sonic fireworks.
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