Seattle’s Naked Giants burst onto the national music scene with their 2018 full-length debut, SLUFF, a candied and insanely catchy blast of unhinged pop-punk-grunge-surf-rock. But if that record was the sound of, as one reviewer labeled them, a trio of “affable miscreants just out of high school” getting their musical rocks off, then The Shadow, the band’s new and second studio effort, is in comparison a decidedly more—what’s the word?—mature offering.
That is, if “mature” is the appropriate term for an album where one member is credited with playing a fun machine, and another merely with “charisma.”
And so, welcome once again to the extraordinary and eccentric world of Naked Giants. They might be older (average age: 23) and wiser, but the band members—singer and guitarist Grant Mullen, singer and bassist Gianni Aiello and drummer Henry LaVallee—are still out to conjure a rip-roaring good time.
In fact, cue up The Shadow, and within little more than the first five minutes you’ve already careened through the throttling “Walk of Doom,” a blitz of post-punk riffing, wastoid gang shouting and toms-heavy drumming; the singalong anthem-for-the-disaffected “High School (Don’t Like Them),” in which Mullen aloofly intones of former class mates, “Now you’re lying on the couch and life’s busted / Never made a big sting or erupted” over waves of ratty, distorted chords; and the taut, falsetto-flecked “Take a Chance,” a Talking Heads-ish funk-rock workout with bits of shimmery synth and lo-fi slide guitar riffing thrown in for good measure.
“It’s all about how many smiles can we crack on the people that are listening to this music,” LaVallee says by way of something like a mission statement. “And also on the people that are playing it.”
And to be sure, The Shadow is an energetic and exhilarating musical rollercoaster ride. But there’s also a whole lot more to it.
Take, for starters, “Turns Blue,” an ‘80s-tinged dream-pop torch song that floats along on an undulating bass line and heavily reverberated dew-drop guitars before erupting in a soft explosion of pounding drums and harmonized na-na-na’s in the chorus.
Or “The Ripper,” a slice of mellowed-out, dark-toned psych-folk that, in lines like “wash me away ‘til my color’s gone,” explores, as songwriter Aiello puts it, the “effects of Western cultural domination and colonization attitudes from the large scale onto the small scale” (even if, LaVallee admits with a slight laugh, he interpreted those same lyrics as being about “ripping bong hits”).
Subject matter aside, the point, of course, is that The Shadow reveals new and welcome layers to the Naked Giants sound, both musically and lyrically. For every anthem like the wiry, slamming “(God Damn!) What I Am” (“I’m feeling all right / I’ve got my band and my song is playing all night”), there’s a “heartfelt acoustic ballad” (LaVallee’s words) like “Song for When You Sleep,” a junkyard-blues workout like “Better Not Waste My Time” and a socially-conscious new-wave jam like “Television,” where over a loopy, hypnotic groove Aiello laments, “Eighteen, nineteen dead this week / But have you seen this fucking meme?”