Electronic-rock quintet The Naked And Famous was a sensation in its native New Zealand seemingly right away; its 2010 full-length, Passive Me, Aggressive You, debuted at No. 1 in its home country and racked up a slew of awards there over the next year. The band established itself elsewhere in part by licensing its songs to a barrage of TV shows, movies, and video games, to where it seemed The Naked And Famous was the most ubiquitous band whose name no one knew. People figured it out, and Passive Me, Aggressive You went on to sell 500,000 copies worldwide.
While The Naked And Famous recorded Passive Me, Aggressive You at band members’ homes and a local studio, the band decamped to Laurel Canyon this summer to record In Rolling Waves. The “Laurel Canyon sound” couldn’t have less in common with the group’s style, and thankfully The Naked And Famous didn’t dally with the folky mellowness that typifies it. In Rolling Waves follows the precedent of Passive Me, Aggressive You into moodier territory, with fewer outright rockers (“Hearts Like Ours,” “The Mess,” “I Kill Giants,” “What We Want”) in favor of longer songs that take their time to build and release (“Rolling Waves,” “Grow Old,” “We Are Leaving,” “A Small Reunion”). “Longer” being the operative word; more than five of the album’s 12 tracks go beyond the five-minute mark (“Grow Old” clocks in at 6:36), and another five last more than four minutes.
The Naked And Famous seems to be using its success as an opportunity to stretch out a bit, and for the most part it works. “Rolling Waves,” probably the album’s most rock-oriented song, tumbles like its namesake, with chiming guitars that swell into a distorted three-chord wash of sound as singer-keyboardist Alisa Xayalith stretches out “like rolling waves” into five syllables. Album-closer “A Small Reunion” builds to a string-laden crescendo.
“Grow Old” simmers to a similar crescendo before powering down again for its final minute, then segues into the brief, but similarly restrained “Golden Girl.” Their nearly nine-minute combined running time makes the album sag at its midpoint, until “I Kill Giants” picks it back up again with its big hooks, stuttering keyboards, and three-note chorus. Those are In Rolling Waves’ best moments, because the slow build and release of some of the other tracks can feel repetitious, even if the band executes it well.
More immediately ingratiating songs like “I Kill Giants” and “Hearts Like Ours” (the album’s first single) would seem to guarantee The Naked And Famous’ ascent into stardom, but In Rolling Waves requires a bit more patience on the whole. That’s actually a good sign; the band doesn’t seem to feel beholden to making a breakthrough—and In Rolling Waves may provide it regardless.