The Naked and Famous have their song-craft down to a tight, clean formula, despite the multiple layers of synthetic shapes and sounds that characterize the songs on Passive Me, Aggressive You. It's complicated without being messy. The band's playful lyrics enhance the effectiveness of their building blocks. Those pieces consist of several levels of electronic noises, drum machines, and the impeccable harmonies of front-people Alisa Xayalith and Thom Powers—all to an often stunning crescendo. The songs burn with the same pop flair as most of contemporary radio's biggest hits, but the difference here is quantity and quality—a consistent undulating intensity, well thought out ups and downs and everything in between, for the entire LP. It's authentic. Most pop records have one or two singles, a handful of highs at best, but The Naked and Famous have an entire album full of interesting and versatile moments.
Passive Me does have its singles, the pinprick riff of "Punching In A Dream" and the advert-friendly "Young Blood" "yeah yeah yeah!" chorus. These songs definitely rock, but the real efficiency of the band is in between the lines. Tracks like "Frayed" bounce a series of varied percussive noises off a persistent synth riff, culminating in a solid, pseudo-spoken-word bridge full of emotional weight. It's also the perfect example of how the band can layer on the complexities like toppings on a pizza, without ever making their slices feel too heavy. "A Wolf In Geek's Clothing" weighs like a standard rock setup, even though there is certainly a large number of other things going on besides guitar, bass and drums.
And then there are the downs, equally as attentive to the ear, and by no means considered excess packaging. With the computers stripped away, the pleasant vocals of Xayalith and Powers occasionally have a chance to stand on their own legs, like in the first verses of "Jilted Lovers", or the intro to "No Way". The latter leads with a nice, bare melodic passage set to acoustic guitar, demonstrating that the group doesn't need a ton of tech to keep their writing compelling. These more subdued moments are also rooted in musical construction, not bass heavy afflictions. And the pleasure of hearing the band rev at full throttle is complete with the quiet bits in between. "No Way", like every other song, quickly evolves into the controlled chaos of a typical Naked riff, but the back and forth is a reminder that The Naked and Famous are the ones controlling the computers, not the other way around.