Abel Tesfaye's dark, twisted album is at odds with the glossy pop world he's been thrust into
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.
Order a copy of The Naked and Famous' 'Passive Me, Aggressive You' from Amazon
Buy Tickets for their UK May tour
The Cavan teenagers attack album two with abandon, largely at the expense of quality
A still-vital John Lydon rages towards retirement on a saucy, scuzzy new album
10 Tracks You Need To Hear This Week (26/8/2015)
Oxford's finest flit between gnarly rock and frustrating slickness on an often-brilliant fourth album