Following the end of the promotional tour for their 2013 sophomore album, In Rolling Waves, New Zealand's the Naked and Famous took some much needed time off. Along with rest, the hiatus also brought other changes, with vocalists Thom Powers and Alisa Xayalith choosing to end their romantic relationship. It was purportedly a painful experience that almost led to the breakup of the band. However, rather than chucking it all in, Powers and Xayalith decided to forge ahead and finish work on their third album. Produced by Powers at his Echo Park home studio in Los Angeles, 2016's deeply emotive Simple Forms is a fittingly dark-hued effort rife with heartbreak, loss, and, ultimately, a sense of forgiveness. Perhaps due to the personal turmoil or to the band's maturation process over three albums, Simple Forms is less overtly bombastic than the group's previous work. There's a tenderness to the arrangements that feels straightforward and uncluttered. The result is an album that sounds at first listen more like a straightforward EDM production than the neon-toned, post-punk electronica of Passive Me, Aggressive You. But that isn't to say there aren't moments of tsunami-like intensity. Cuts like "My Energy" and "Backslide" are teutonic, bass-heavy anthems that balance sparkling clubby electronics with yearning emo-rock lyricism. Similarly, tracks like the throbbing, gargantuan soundscape of "The Water Beneath You" and flickering white noise of "Laid Low" sound like a combination of My Bloody Valentine and Ellie Goulding. Ultimately, if there is a nuanced sophistication to the band's work on Simple Forms, it feels genuine and hard-won. You get the sense, as on the heart-wrenching "Last Forever," that many of these songs were written and perhaps initially recorded on acoustic guitar with Powers and Xayalith accompanying each other. It's a poignant concept backed up by the ending refrain of the song as the synths and drums fall away, revealing the former couple in a supple duet, their voices imbued with a heart-rending sincerity.
AllMusic Review by Matt Collar