One of the beauties of The Naked And Famous’ work is that they have crafted their own distinctive sound. Another is that they’re not afraid to take that sound into new and varying directions. Simple Forms is no exception.
While 2013’s In Rolling Waves took a stripped-back and subdued approach to TNAF’s unique sound of indie synthpop, Simple Forms harkens back to their hits of old. 2010’s Passive Me, Aggressive You’s “Young Blood” and “Punching In A Dream” often come to mind when listening to their new record, because Simple Forms’ tracks take the core ideas present in those tracks and kick it up a notch or three. New TNAF brings you pop bangers, lost of them, while still maintaining the great vocal melodies, synth stabs and musical shifts the band’s known for.
“Higher” kicks off the record and gives you a taste of what you’re in for. Rhytmic synths and a steady beat form the backbone of the song, while Alisa Xayalith’s vocals wrap around them and build to an anthemic chorus with punch. What TNAF have always excelled at is making pop ballads that are both heartfelt and energetic. You can definitely dance to these tracks, sing along, but meanwhile both Xayalith and Thom Powers – more of a presence on this album, a very welcome change – convey a lot of emotion through their vocals and lyrics.
Second track “The Water Beneath You” takes that idea even further. It’s TNAF by way of Chvrches, and it’s a song that is beautifully constructed and aggressive in its melodiousness. The big drum and dance beat get your blood pumping, the throbbing synths and sharp guitars burried in the back only enhance that feeling, and Xayalith’s lead vocals and Powers’ back vocals compliment it beautifully. It’s a song made for a stadium, TNAF’s equivalent of arena rock. While followup “My Energy” is another big track it’s also a lot more subdued, something’s that achieved through Powers’ lead vocals here, a gentler tempo and a more atmospheric composition. Until the track’s climax.
In short, that’s the strength of Simple Forms: each track has its own strong hooks, is comfortably in the same sound space as all the other songs, but has its own unique flourishes that keep you wanting more. “Last Forever”‘s bass-heavy chorus and gentle piano chords are addicting, “Losing Our Control”‘s subtle guitar riffs and Powers’ The Weeknd-like vocal delivery – coupled with Xayalith’s excellent performance, especially her howls during the chorus – are gorgeous, while “Backslide” and “Falling”‘s brooding quality have their own unique flavor that harkens back to the band’s debut EPs. Xayalith’s vocals and her vulnerable lyrics are “Laid Low” and “The Runners”‘s shining points, once again complemented by Powers’ backing. “Rotten”, finally, is the most In Rolling Waves-like track on Simple Forms, but with a much more amped-up sound than the previous record ever had. It’s a beautiful closer.
The only caveat here is that the sound is so big all the time that Simple Forms can be quite overbearing at first. TNAF’s new directions takes some getting used to, because of the lavish production and emphasis on pop over more of the indie taste that fans have come to associate with the band. That being said: the quality of songwriting here is undeniable, as is the band’s instrumental and vocal prowess. And their creativity: when you give all TNAF albums a listen back to back, it’s easy and marvelous to spot how they sound very TNAF while also sounding completely different on each record. It’s a true accomplishment.
Simple Forms is big, loud and pop. But without ever losing The Naked And Famous’s vulnerability and emotional pull. It’s a bold album, but one that undoubtedly pays off. 9/10