The bands, which are both currently based on the West Coast, return from lengthy absences with promising new albums that hit store shelves on July 24.
Photo by Paul Patane
Studio album releases have been infrequent this spring and summer, as artists scramble to finish recording and mixing their tracks while figuring out final packaging and distribution details as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to cripple the nation’s economy. Enter Neon Trees and the Naked and Famous, two acts based on the West Coast that are ready to reintroduce themselves with new albums which hit store shelves today.
A handful of major releases infiltrated their way into store inventories in the early stages of the pandemic, even though the vast majority of retailers were forced to close shop in March as stay-at-home orders were enacted throughout most of the United States. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, for example, got “Reunions” to stores in May and Bob Dylan’s “Rough and Rowdy Ways” was released on June 19.
With the majority of storefronts now reopened in some capacity, album releases are picking up again — though we’ve hit the point where the backlog of new records in waiting could fill a metaphorical dam that’s about to break. Several big LPs, like Alanis Morissette’s “Such Pretty Forks in the Road” (July 31) and Katy Perry’s “Smile” (Aug. 14) are nearly here, but it’s two records releasing today that have me excited to get to my local record store for the first time this summer.
Neon Trees, “I Can Feel You Forgetting Me”
Courtesy of Thrill Forever
Could Neon Trees have picked a more fitting title for their fourth studio album given they had been dormant as a group for half a decade leading up to this release? The last LP the four-piece alternative rock group released was “Pop Psychology,” which dropped in 2014. The big hit from that record was “Sleeping with a Friend” and at the time the band was getting headlines for frontman Tyler Glenn coming out in Rolling Stone magazine.
A lot has changed for Neon Trees since the release of “Pop Psychology,” which included extensive touring culminating in a finale tour dubbed the “An Intimate Night with Neon Trees.” That run, with a very pregnant Elaine Bradley working the drums, was a memorable sendoff for the band. I remember watching their Minneapolis show in June 2015 from the balcony of the Varsity Theater feeling like I wouldn’t see the group again for a long time — a concept that seemed foreign before that show given I’d watched them perform live three times in a three-year span. In 2016, Glenn released a solo record titled “Excommunication” which detailed his split from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and then things were mostly quiet for the band until 2019.
“Used to Like,” the lead single from new album “I Can Feel You Forgetting Me” was released in November 2019, ushering in a new era for the Utah-based rockers who did most of the work on the new LP in Los Angeles. Several of the record’s 10 total tracks feel familiar, as there’s still that upbeat current which pulses under Glenn’s lyrics like the aftershocks of a minor earthquake. Parts of the LP scream of isolation and being lonely. But in typical Neon Trees style, the group finds a way to lift listeners up and there’s cohesion, tying all the tracks together, which isn’t common in today’s age of bands pumping out singles for streams.
According to Glenn, he and his bandmates wrote about 40 songs before narrowing the list to the 10 tracks that made the cut, a process which led to a strong release that’s good listening for a mid-pandemic timeout.
The Naked and Famous, “Recover”
Courtesy of the Naked and Famous
Like Neon Trees, the Naked and Famous had been on the shelf for a while, but unlike Glenn's band, the indie electronic rockers from New Zealand went through a significant lineup change, shedding 60% of their membership in 2018, after finishing touring for their 2016 LP “Simple Forms.”
Alisa Xayalith and Thom Powers, all that’s left of the now Los Angeles-based the Naked and Famous, introduce listeners to “Recover,” the group's fourth studio album. Originally slated to hit store shelves in May, the record was pushed to a summer release in April, due to the pandemic.
Xayalith told me in an interview from 2017, “The Naked and Famous don’t write thematically—maybe one day we will. Writing songs is an emotionally visceral expression of what is inspiring us at the time. We write pop songs, lead by wearing our hearts on our sleeve.” Even with turmoil and roster changes, “Recover” plays as if Xayalith and Powers haven’t altered their approach. It’s an album that continues the group’s legacy of producing anthemic songs that are great to dance to. With 15 tracks running nearly 50 minutes in total length, there’s a lot to digest and enjoy that's packed within the vinyl, including standout singles “Come as You Are,” “Bury Us” and “Sunseeker.”
“Recover” isn’t just the lead track, or the name of the group’s new album, it’s a mission statement. Should Xayalith and Powers continue to team up, there’s plenty of chemistry between them to keep the two in business together for another decade.