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Album review: Nada Surf – The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy

  Friday 13th January 2012

After dalliances with the mainstream and major label disputes in the mid-nineties, alt rock three-piece Nada Surf have experienced a creative renaissance recently, recast as unsung cult icons.

Nada Surf's new album
Nada Surf’s new album

Their sixth studio album, released on City Slang Records to minimal fanfare takes its title from a phrase beloved of singer Matthew Caws’ father. In a sense, it serves as a neat summary of the band’s situation in their 18th year.

They are seemingly indifferent to their standing in the rock canon – an unthinkable attitude during the days of their arch, proto-hipster anthem “Popular” – yet they are making some of the best music of their career, perhaps as a direct result.

The songs on display here are pure panoramic pop, such as a more carefree Foo Fighters and some “Free All Angels” (Ash). There’s even a hint of Phoenix’s Gallic insouciance in the effortless melodies and arrangements. Singer-guitarist Caws may not have the strongest voice but his wide-eyed delivery and exuberance manages to sell even the most standard power-pop arrangement. The band have alluded to their desire to capture on record the enthusiasm whipped up when playing a new song together for the first time and nowhere is this more apparent than on blistering opener “Clear Eye Clouded Mind”.

Elsewhere, first single “When I Was Young” starts off as an acoustic number reminiscent of Big Star or the Go-Betweens, before teetering into a full-blown shoegaze epic, Caws repeating “what was that world I was dreaming of?” in a bittersweet ode to more innocent times.

After such a fantastic start, the album inevitably starts to flag around the midway point. Apart from the surprise trumpet clarion on the lounge-y “Let The Fight Do The Fighting”, the instrumentals hardly stray from the standard rock set-up, inducing involuntary listener fatigue. It’s all very stirring and generally pleasant – and “Teenage Dreams” is a line I think we can all get behind. It’s not until the final track “The Future” that Nada Surf scale the heights of the first few tracks, ending on a definite high.

A solid, occasionally spectacular outing which sanctions their status as rock outsiders – probably their best effort since their masterpiece “Let Go” – you get the feeling they wouldn’t have it any other way.

Verdict: ••••

Freddy Powys

Listen to lead single “When I Was Young” here

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