Since the early ’90s, and popularization of indie rock, the genre and its subgenres have only continued to grow in both popularity and size. The initial spawning of bands like Pavement was huge at the time. The second movement, led by bands like the Strokes and the White Stripes, initialized revivals of music we hadn’t heard since the late ’70s. And finally, groups like Vampire Weekend, and Tame Impala, cemented themselves and the genre within radio rotations and pop spheres around the world. But with the growing exposure of indie rock comes more bands taking a pass at it, and with many exceptions (like the bands listed), a majority of them don’t innovate in any meaningful way. Naturally, as a band starts up, they’re going to take what they know, and show it, rather than spend endless hours attempting to give what one-hundred years of music hasn’t already given us. However, with their first full release in 2018, Naked Giants did their best to yet again prove the stigma wrong.
SLUFF (2018), Naked Giants’ first record, wasn’t an outstanding or groundbreaking release by any stretch of the imagination. No new technology, genre-constructing riffs, or perspectives that could reach out and grasp something completely different than what already was. But much like Parquet Courts, they fused genres together, and leapt out of the gate with their own, genre-bent style. With the high-energy of punk, the personality of grunge, and the instrumentation of early ’70s psychedelia, Naked Giants came out with a collection of consistent, decent tracks, and a solidified approach to go along with them. There’s going to be natural variation, and each song was a separate exploration of sounds and ideas, but it was still cohesive. And with their follow-up single, Green Fuzz (2019), they showed very similar trends, only indexing a bit heavier towards the psychedelia, which was fine. So, coming into their second full-length release, I was wondering what could be done to take their identity to the next level.
Within the first few tracks of The Shadow (2020), many things look the same. Both “Walk of Doom,” and “High School (Don’t Like Them),” are quick tracks, leaning heavily on their vitalizing guitars, and simplistic, catchy choruses. Their vocal performances weren’t what excelled the band, or attracted audiences, and that’s true here; with monotonous, and lazy verse-to-verse lyrics on “High School (Don’t Like Them.” All of these variables are consistent with SLUFF, and one shouldn’t be that surprised of this. Then, “Take A Chance,” unleashes a collage of new sounds into a very similar equation. Utilization of acoustic guitars, background techno beats, and a group falsetto bring some extra “oomph” to what the first two tracks established, and the project begins to look a bit like what I expected of it. But all of that changes with their fourth addition.
The fourth song on The Shadow, titled “Turns Blue,” forcibly snatches all the uniformity out of the record. The slow, smooth, bass that drives the song to completion is very easily identified as the Cure, in both idea an execution. And while it isn’t technically flawed, the track skews much closer to a cover than to one of their own songs; pulling effectively, a Greta Van Fleet. Soon after, track six, “The Ripper,” pulls the exact same gimmick to bands like the Smiths, and even the Beatles. Smooth folk-pop is clearly a fine way to make music, but when it comes from nowhere, and runs away following its close, it’s hard to take it as the Naked Giants’ true identity. “Unpeeled,” is another example of methods youthful to Naked Giants, but not necessary to music as a whole. Its masquerade isn’t quite as specific as the aforementioned cuts, but it’s still less fluid, natural, and fitting to this record, or what Naked Giants have ever produced.
Outside of those three tracks, the rest read as very standard Naked Giants material. “Television,” their second song named after the media format, following “T.V.” from SLUFF, is a soft-loud-soft, punk-plus song, with a clever catchiness, forcing you to remember it. But the guitars are oddly ’80s-based, with a glossy echo, mirroring pop giants like U2. “Better Not Waste My Time,” is another condensed jam-session, which they established as a pattern through tracks like “Green Fuzz.” And the title-track, “The Shadow,” is a dark, dense, metal-heavy, crazy-transitional song that goes in almost every direction from its starting point.
Barring the few copycat songs mentioned earlier, The Shadow is a fine Naked Giants record, very similar to what they’ve done thus far. But even then, it lacks a necessary flavor, uniqueness, or concept for me to call it a complete step up. The additional three, however, split up that possibility, with huge thematic, dynamic, and mood shifts that leave as quickly as they got there. Were they to be expanded upon, and continuously developed, I would have no issue with their existence. Or, if they were all together, maybe toward either the beginning or end of the record, it could act as a tonal 180, in its flow. Instead, they continuously sap everything else that makes this release fun, and seem like fun experiments that don’t work well with the rest of the whole. When taking all of that into consideration, I’m thinking about a 4.5 on this. I enjoy the idea of Naked Giants continuing to expand, explore, experiment, and all other ex-words, but would prefer it be done via singles, wholistic projects, or outside of official releases, until they can get there.
Favorite Track(s): “Take A Chance,” “Television,” “Better Not Waste My Time”
Least Favorite Track(s): “Turns Blue,” “The Ripper,” “Unpeeled”