Alisa Xayalith and Thom Powers are in a new position these days, suddenly carrying a lot more musical weight on their shoulders. Shortly after their New Zealand synthpop outfit the Naked & Famous released their stripped-down acoustic set A Still Heart in 2018, it was announced that Jesse Wood and long-standing bandmate/writer/producer Aaron Short were leaving the band on amicable terms. While it was refreshing to see such a split occur pleasantly, this left founding members Alisa Xayalith and Thom Powers down to a duo for the first time in the band’s decade-long history.
That informs Recover, the aptly-named fourth album from the group, and it as joyous, propulsive, and heartfelt as any Naked and Famous album that has come before. As it so happens, this record touches on departures quite a bit, whether it be the passing of a mother during the title track or handling grief with the support of loved ones during “Death”. Even the closing song is named “Everything I’ve Ever Loved and Lost Is Coming Back to Me” — and unsurprisingly, it too touches on the confusing mix of emotions we are all prone to in deciphering the world around us. It all may sound heavy, but more often than not, the Naked and Famous subscribe to the philosophy that no matter how heavy the subject matter is, the best thing to do with your emotions is just to dance it out, and Recover is littered with beats aplenty.
To mark the occasion, Xayalith and Powers sat down to tackle a Fave Five with PopMatters, here listing out their “Fave Five Albums They Listened to While Writing/Recording Recover”. Contemporary pop luminaries can be found abound, and for those wondering what makes the band’s fourth record so different from their last, these influences should be more than enough to depict the musical detours the band is indulging in this time out.
Cautious Clay – Table of Context (2019)
Lush stacked-harmonies, choruses that soar, lyrics that read like poetry. His melodies play on in my mind long after I’ve listened. Cautious Clay was someone I was quite constantly energized by, throughout the writing and recording of Recover. I get excited about every one of his releases! My favorite tracks are “Reasons”, “Honest Enough”, and “Settlers Paradise”. — Alisa Xayalith
Caroline Polachek – Pang (2019)
Pang was released just as we were wrapping up the final mixes for Recover, although I’d been listening to her singles throughout 2019. Weirdly, completing a Naked and Famous album reinvigorates my love for music. It untangles it for me. There’s a point in the midst of producing an album where music becomes something I feel motivated to pay attention to — not solely something I enjoy without reflection. Pang dropped right when I was coming up for air, and my ‘remembering self’ will always make the connection. I can say with some confidence that it’ll be an influence on our next record. Probably my favorite album of 2019. — Thom Powers
The Japanese House – Good at Falling (2019)
Thom introduced me to the Japanese House in 2014. I remember him saying he was hoping to work with her at some point and played me a demo of hers called “Still”. We’ve been huge fans ever since. She has an original perspective. Her melodic sensibilities, combined with her stunning voice, are genuinely unique. — Alisa Xayalith
St. Vincent – Masseduction (2017)
Despite being my first instrument, it isn’t effortless for me to pick up a guitar. I can spend an entire day trialing potential guitar ideas, only to arrive at self-loathing. Masseduction gave me the encouragement I needed — it spoke to me. It said, “Relax; put the guitar down until you need it. Use it only when it feels vital.” I needed to let go of my habits to work on Recover. This album was a eureka moment for me. “Digital Witness” woke me up to St Vincent. Like when a friend shows you how to do something nifty on your phone or computer, and you think, “Oh WOW, my life just got better.” Masseduction was like if I’d time-traveled from the distant past into 2020, and someone handed me an iPhone, a coffee, and a pizza all at once. — Thom Powers
Khalid – Free Spirit (2019)
I listened to a lot of pop music during the making of Recover. I was trying to ingest melodic sensibilities that were different from where my brain would typically go. I often listened to Khalid’s record Free Spirit to cleanse my palette and inspire me. The opening track ‘Intro’ is this massive wall of sound, and his vocal moves through it delicately but is still very commanding. Some days I’d listen to this single track on repeat. Another few stand out tracks for me are “Outta My Head [ft. John Mayer]”, “Paradise”, “Saturday Nights”, and “Hundred”. — Alisa Xayalith