If you were judging by the name, you'd be forgiven for thinking we'd given Katie Price's first band the Philip Hall Radar Award, or that the BBC Sound of 2011 poll had given a nod to a tongue-in-cheek Lady Gaga spin-off act. But no, The Naked and Famous are the latest dash of New Zealand's music out of the choking black shadow of Crowded House.
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," while 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.