I wanted to go with a sports theme this week at therockmom, and link baseball’s World Series with a discussion of some of my favorite Dallas-area bands past and present (Old ‘97s, The Buck Pets, Erykah Badu, Kelly Clarkson). But since the Texas Rangers blew it big time, and since I don’t know any decent bands from St. Louis (anyone, anyone?), I’ll turn my attention to those other current World Champions – the New Zealand All Blacks, who recently won the Rugby World Cup.
I won’t say much about the All Blacks as such (my Australian husband wouldn’t take too kindly to any gushing), other than I missed watching Dan (sigh) Carter play once he got injured. What I will do is chat a bit about my current favorite Kiwi band – The Naked and Famous.
Most of the time when you hear ‘New Zealand’ and ‘pop music’ you can’t think of much beyond Crowded House and that guy who sang “How Bizarre”. That’s why The Naked and Famous are so refreshing; they don’t wear their Kiwi-ness on their sleeves. I love, love, love Neil Finn but with him you know you’re always going to get sturdy pop, nature images and the odd Maori phrases in the mix. Like a Peter Jackson musical but taller and without the pointy ears.
The Naked and Famous are hard to categorize – pop with an alternative streak, hard at times, somewhat dance-able and pretty darn cool. Thom Powers and Alisa Xayalith, who met at an Auckland music school, lead the quintet. They cite Massive Attack, Bjork, PJ Harvey and Tricky as influences, and you can feel a shiver of that techno tension on tracks like “Frayed” and “The Ends”. They’ve been compared to MGMT, but I hear a lot more of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs in their sound. On punky songs like “Punching in a Dream” and “Young Blood” – both released as singles – Ms Xayalith sounds eerily like Karen O’s southern hemisphere cousin.
“The Sun” certainly ranks in my top five singles of 2011 so far. To get the full effect of this mesmerizing song, start with the previous track – a solo piano piece called “The Source” – which segues in to the insidious, hypnotic beat of “The Sun”. The layers of beats and vocals build and swirl as Ms Xayalith breathes a litany of regret, memory loss and bad behaviour. It’s a perfect late-night, neon-lit, head-spinning track. You can check out the video here, but be warned that, like the band’s name, it does contain nudity. For gratuitous Kiwi boobies, press play.
They’re a young band and sometimes it shows in their ‘moody girl writes bad poetry’ lyrics – “Jilted Lovers” is a particularly ponderous example. I’m hoping the combination of travel and more exposure will infuse their writing with a bit more depth and courage. They’re on tour in Europe right now, making some inroads in the States, but completely under the radar here in Asia.
Fortunately, for those of us living in pop music backwaters, we have plenty of ways to explore new music. Start with The Naked and Famous official website, where you can watch/listen to not one, not two but SEVEN of their music videos plus a short ‘in the studio’ vid. They’re also a BBC Sound of 2011 Artist – find that here.
I’m now rooting for the Houston Texans to make the Super Bowl.