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Kiwi indie favourites The Naked and Famous came to the Roundhouse on Thursday night and delivered an accomplished set as part of their 2011 UK tour. It was an engaging showcase of their debut album, Passive me, Aggressive You, to a sell-out crowd in Camden.

With catchy electro-synth pop anthems like Punching in a Dream and Young Blood it’s a surprise that they are only hugely popular in their home country. Young Blood became the first number one single in the New Zealand chart by a home-grown band for three years. Over here in the UK, though, they are going about their business more quietly, entering the album chart at a more modest 25.

Their electro-enthused anthemic style often draws comparisons with MGMT but there’s a more solemn, distorted wall of sound with slow build-up in songs like The Sun, which is more at odds with Massive Attack.

As a live act I thought that, like the album, they created an effective play between calm, dream-like states and nightmarish chaos, aided by the projected visuals and red and white lighting. There’s a distinct lack of chemistry between lead singers Thom Powers and Alisa Xayalith, but in a way it works best like this. It further reinforces the dream/nightmare dichotomy.

It might be coincidence that Thom spells his name with the silent ‘h’, evoking a certain Mr Yorke. I don’t think it’s going too far to rule out Radiohead’s influences in their work, especially the chiming opening to The Ends.

There’s a more beefy, syncopated distortion in songs like Spank and A Wolf in Geek’s Clothing, which would have most crowds creating carnage in the front rows, and I was a little disappointed that this wasn’t the case at the Roundhouse. But then looking around at the slightly Emo audience, I thought they were probably present more for the angsty tracks with lyrics like “I’ll go bury my head in the ground/ Yeah I will lose what I said in the sound of the words and the numb that it brings”. And why not?

That said, I can see that the long-noted arpeggios and catchy, festivalic choruses would be in their element on far bigger stages. I didn’t catch them at any festivals this summer but I’m sure you can ask anyone who did, and they will tell you that The Naked and Famous are going to be big on the 2012 scene.

by Edward Lines

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