Throughout the 21st Century, it’s been interesting the chronicle the shifting landscape of British indie and how, despite some very real changes in sound and commercial performances, there really isn’t much of a gulf in essence between any of it. As far as intent goes, there’s no real fundamental difference between the Kaiser Chiefs, Catfish And The Bottlemen and Blossoms; all three make music that feels fast-tracked to get to the biggest stages imaginable, and are rooted in a more old-fashioned rock approach that has a much bigger catchment by design. That’s still very much the case with the most modern wave; bands like The Hunna and, to bring it even further down the timeline, Sea Girls have tapped into the exact vibe to play into what the festival crowds they’ll find their greatest successes in front of want, and have tailored their sound to be equally big and equally as accessible. But those two bands in particular are interesting examples to show how a gradient of quality exists even within what might seem like such narrow confines. There’s a blaring cynicism towards The Hunna that they’ve never been able to shed, and while Sea Girls mightn’t be that far off sonically, their overall demeanour has always felt more earnest and borderline grassroots by comparison, and that’s made them a prospect that’s far easier to get behind. That’s the model that’s currently being driven by Naked Next Door, a band who are clearly vying for a piece of the festival-indie pie judging by their sound, but have operated on a similarly small-scale basis up to now. Even if the specific ‘festival’ side of the rubric is all but a complete washout right now, their singles have picked up a fair amount of buzz in the right communities, to where Swerving Out Wide could prove to be something of a breakthrough for them if all goes well.
Unfortunately that isn’t really the case, as Swerving Out Wide is much closer to the middle of the bell curve on the whole, being generally fit for purpose within the festival-indie limitations, but without doing much else. And honestly, that’s probably the worst place that Naked Next Door could’ve ended up; it’s where the vast majority of these bands reside as it is, and with both a sonic and lyrical palette that’s nigh-on identical to a lot of the bigger acts they could slot between, there’s nothing too gripping about Naked Next Door at the moment that couldn’t be replicated by dozens of other bands. It’s basically fine for another, more brief slice of a sound that’s become almost overwhelmingly commonplace, but the fact that there can’t have been much desire for that anyway is a bigger issue in itself.
Though, to the band’s credit, they’ve arguably landed on what will be their big hit here, with everything around it used to prop it up. Save It is an easy standout here, leaning into its admittedly unadventurous ideas and composition but priming its towering backing vocals on the hook to give it its sense of grandeur and sweeping populism, the sort of thing that indie like this lives and dies on. Thus, it’s not really a surprise when the likes of Halo and Lying To You try and replicate that formula, but they don’t stick the landing quite as well, and almost all of that is down to what Naked Next Door have to work with. Their ability to craft a hook is fine – in terms of raw moments, there’s a pretty good amount of catchiness on this EP – but it’s hard not to see how it’s let down by the production, which opts for a more smothering garage-rock / Britrock tone that, even on a song like Not Much Of Me which looks to ease things back for something quieter, has a roughness and a harshness that can really clash. It’s not helped by the compression that makes it sound even louder and buzzier, something that remains noticeable even when Naked Next Door are able to forge a fairly powerful melody from it. It’s not something that works too well for as blatantly widescreen as they’re trying to be, piled upon by Euan Emerton’s vocals that already have a weaker reediness to them, with the production only making his blurred-over diction feel less stable. The workings of Naked Next Door trying to be more of a swaggering rock band are there, but they overstep their meaningful boundaries too frequently for the whole thing to hold together much beyond the basics at its core.
With those basics in mind though, it’s tempting to be a bit more charitable here, since Naked Next Door have effectively hit upon the rather simple sound they’ve strived for. Any great thematic dexterity or intrigue is absent by design, and for at least managing to, if nothing else, get some good hooks from an already-plundered series of lyrical wells, Naked Next Door are doing fine here. That’s not to say they couldn’t do more, especially when themes like love and self-reflection are almost ridiculously commonplace and a lot of Swerving Out Wide reflects that in its lack of willingness to deviate, but like this EP on the whole, it’s difficult to show any sort of contempt towards when it does what it sets out to do, and it’s effectively harmless. It’ll ultimately go down well live, and Naked Next Door shouldn’t be too heavily chastised for that when that’s the exact direction they’re playing into.
But at the same time, the exact same point can be made for so many other faceless indie bands, and the fact they remain as such really speaks for itself. As for Naked Next Door, the fact they are so new means they’ve got time to avoid falling into that particular ditch, but right now the evidence doesn’t look to great. Swerving Out Ride is far from the worst thing in the world, but it doesn’t illicit any kind of response, nor does it provide much evidence for how Naked Next Door are looking to grow and move on from what is ultimately a foundational release. That lack of flexibility is where this EP falls most of all, not only in how limited it feels but the comfort that exudes from that, and how not a lot of it actually feels as though it’s going anywhere. In other words, it’s low-bill festival fodder that can please crowds and not much else, and only some serious evolution will be able to see Naked Next Door break out of that mould.
For fans of: The Hunna, Sea Girls, Mallory Knox
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Swerving Out Wide’ by Naked Next Door is out now on Honest Records.