The Naked and Famous might have relocated from Auckland, New Zealand to Los Angeles, but the tirelessly touring quintet likely spends more time living out of suitcases. They face yet another lengthy tour ahead supporting their fine second album, In Rolling Waves. The record, released last week, is a lush, synth-driven tsunami, guided by the affecting vocal exchanges and harmonies between singers Thom Powers and Alisa Xayalith.
Since The Naked and Famous are headed to the New York area for two headlining gigs at Terminal 5 on October 10 and 11 (you can enter to win TAS tickets here), The Alternate Side asked TAS in Session alumnus, guitarist, vocalist and all-around nice guy Thom Powers if he'd reveal his Five Essential Albums for us:
EMA, Past Life Martyred Saints
I generally try to give things a few chances before deciding whether I'm interested or not. I went from feeling a bit dismissive, thinking it was just another noise-band, to feeling like I was the only one who'd figured out how much of fantastic songwriter Erika M. Anderson was. I'm fairly confident both Alisa [Xayalith] and Aaron [Short} felt the same too. An important person in my life showed me this record while we were touring throughout 2011 so I have an additional emotional attachment to the album.
Frightened Rabbit, The Midnight Organ Fight
Stumbled across this while "working" at Real Groovy Records in Auckland, one of the last jobs I had before becoming a full time musician. My excitement was instant. Midway through "The Modern Leper" I felt like I had just been waiting for this band my whole life. Melodically it had the immediacy I had found in few things that weren't guilty pleasures, but was executed with breathtaking originality. These feelings have not diminished.
Radiohead, Kid A
Nothing about this album has dated. In any way, whatsoever. I remember warming to this record after hearing it played in the background (again at work) but on first headphone listen the feeling quickly turned to melting my brain. It changed my perception of songwriting, production and recording.
M83, Saturdays = Youth
Aaron, Alisa and I were living in a flat in Auckland city listening to the radio. "Highway Of Endless Dreams" came on. We were hooked. We had always played around with ethereal atmospheric effects — reverb and delay — but this was so much bolder. It creates a perspective where the songs seem slightly instrument-less. It wasn't about a band or a "sound", it was a feeling and a texture. To me it was about things not feeling human or band-like. It had a dreamy and warm aesthetic appeal. It had nothing to do with people in a room banging on stuff. I grew up thinking, "What are they saying?! What is that noise?! WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?!" Music was mysterious and surreal. This record gave that back to me. We'd been listening to lots of post-punk bands and had grounded ourselves in something closer to a "band" sound. This record encouraged us to step away from a dryer sound.
Bon Iver, Bon Iver Bon Iver
Another big album for me on a more personal level again, feeling like I shared the experience of fanatical appreciation with someone else. I was traveling all over the world and was in a very chaotic place emotionally. I had been a huge fan of the first record and I found this to be such an astonishing follow up. This album reinvigorated my understanding of recorded music. I felt and thought differently about lyrics, timbre and instrumentation. As a musician, I found it encouraging and inspiring. Especially considering the difference in execution on For Emma, Forever Ago. Each song truly had its own meaning for me. Generally, when you become a competent enough musician to be able to figure out a song's composition without having to look at guitar tabs, you tend not to remember how to play the songs. It's not a giant learning curve anymore: you just bash out a few chords and sing the parts and then you go, "Oh cool, I totally understand the song now!" You never forget the first songs you learnt though. For me it's Pantera's "Five Minutes Alone," Tool's Aenima (entire album) and now, unsurprisingly, Bon Iver's "Calgary."