Indie-pop sweethearts The Naked and Famous are no strangers to masking their heavy musings on love, death, and loss beneath deceptively vibrant synth-soundscapes. After all, it’s in the bittersweet hues of the anthemic “Young Blood” that many an adolescence is saturated by; and it’s on the eve of the ten-year anniversary of their debut album Passive Me, Aggressive You that Alisa Xayalith and Thom Powers have chosen to take a cathartic look back on their biographical new album: Recover. Built with formidable clarity upon the foundational loss Xayalith experienced in the death of her mother, the entire album is an elegant and thunderously optimistic attempt to overcome seemingly insurmountable grief.
“Recover,” as the album’s title track, digs incessantly at a wound Xayalith confides with us in–offering up like an operatic prayer a promise to accept recovery. It’s a powerful acknowledgment that finds Xayalith perhaps at her most vulnerable and honest on the album, with the music video (below) prodding that heartache more via a montage of baby photos of the young singer with her parents. And yet we’re reminded of Xayalith’s promise of recovery, that there is life beyond such profound loss.
There is a surging, tidal-wave of joy that cuts through the album in the form of the duo’s ecstatic and life-affirming electronica. So while the album’s introspective look at pain, trauma, and recovery might not have been created under the grim realities of a pandemic, listeners will have no trouble finding some form of catharsis in Recovery.
But Xayalith and Powers level a difficult and tenacious stare at death just as much: “Death” takes a grim but poignant look at the paralyzing awareness we can have of the mortality of our loved ones, painting it instead as a soothing ballad that sees the promise of death as a reason to live. Then there’s the lucid “(An)aesthetic,” which tells the story of a life-threatening bout with sepsis Powers experienced which sent him to the hospital. It’s there he has–in the form of dreamily swirled melody conducted over his possible deathbed–a vision of intense appreciation for the presence of love in his life.
And so Recovery doesn’t just coax our anxieties over the grim realities of life, it also pushes us endlessly forward towards a reason to celebrate life.
Plugging into their penchant for riveting synth-anthems, “Sunseeker” tries to warm your soul with its radiant melody, inspired as it is by Xayalith’s dog; while “Bury Us” erupt like effervescent odes to tireless perseverance. And, as with “Bury Us,” the electric romance-anthem of “Everybody Knows” asserts that the gravitational pull of love after heartbreak is just as scary as a literal free-fall–and just as thrilling. “Come As You Are” is a sober reminder–no matter how tirelessly we hear it and choose to ignore it–that each of us deserves love as we are; and it’s a journey of self-acceptance that culminates near the album’s end on “The Sound of My Voice,” where an anxious but hopeful Powers finally finds some resilience within himself.
Recover has all the emotional potency and wonderous synth-anthems that originally enthralled fans a near-decade ago, but it’s not all rehashing and polishing off old tricks. The growth is tangible; a luminosity tucked into the sonics and the heart-splitting way Xayalith and Powers have grown together through these moments as people and artists.