Some Dance. Some Don’t.

THE NAKED AND FAMOUS — “Simple Forms”
THE GOOD: New Zealand indie pop outfit Naked and Famous comes back with a seamless third.
THE BAD: It’s hardly a great album, but there are many satisfying moments.
THE NITTY GRITTY: “Simple Forms” finds the band playing it safe (the title really describes the record), but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Female/male front team Alisa Xayalith and Thom Powers are rather adept at leading their crew through a series of direct, no-nonsense, catchy pop songs in which the guitars and synths come together harmoniously over smooth beats.
Tracks such as ringing lead single “Higher” and the rolling “The Runners” are instantly fetching, reeling us in with soaring melodies and punchy rhythms. There’s nothing here you haven’t heard before, but not every album has to be a game-changer. Naked and Famous knows its capabilities and thrives within these comfortable surroundings. You’ll come back to “Simple Forms” after that first spin, even if it’s just for the next jog around the park. Feel-good stuff indeed.
BUY IT?: Sure.

THE ALBUM LEAF — “Between Waves”
THE GOOD: Multi-instrumentalist and producer Jimmy LaValle goes the “band” route on Album Leaf’s sixth outing.
THE BAD: No complaints.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Album Leaf always has been LaValle either working alone or with an ever-changing roster of musicians. “Between Waves” finds him sharing the spotlight with a more established group of people, and the record definitely has a more collaborative vibe because of it.
The band takes us through a mostly ambient affair (only three of the eight tracks have vocals). However, it’s not “ambient” in the strict electronic sense, but rather in a cool cascading non-intrusive manner. The rhythms are seamless, the melodies delicate. Beats combine with both keyboards and reserved guitars. Distant trumpets even add a little jazz to the mix.
It all adds up to a pulsating, slick affair, one that’s gentle but never outright weak. And when LaValle adds lyrics, we get a handful of very accomplished indie pop gems riding foamy waves of forward momentum.
BUY IT?: I would.

BANKS — “The Altar”
THE GOOD: California singer/songwriter Jillian Rose Banks (stage name simply Banks) comes back with her second.
THE BAD: There’s no sophomore slump here, but “Altar” is still not much of an improvement over 2014’s tepid “Goddess.”
THE NITTY GRITTY: Banks’ music falls somewhere between indie pop and R&B, with its dark, churning beats firmly grounded in the urban mainstream. Yet, both the synths on top and her singing style fit nicely alongside any modern rock outfit. In the past, Banks toured with the Weekend AND hit the alternative charts, so she’s definitely blurring genres.
Too bad her records contain only fantastic highlights set against uninspired filler. She has yet to make a great ALBUM. “The Altar” continues in this mediocre vein. For every slamming, bouncing “Trainwreck” or “This Is Not About Us,” there’s a dull-edged “Mother Earth.” And after a while, a sort of sameness falls over the proceedings as songs melt together. Perhaps she needs more exciting material?
BUY IT?: Your call.

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