January 24, 2008

Lucky to have Nada Surf on my stereo

Like the thoughts I’m prone to mull over when I sit underneath the deepening hood of twilight, watching the stars come out, there’s an introspective thread in the new Nada Surf album that illuminates the conflicting desires most of us feel in adult life. On “Weightless,” frontman Matthew Caws sings to all of us who have ever felt too inexperienced to be in control of these big decisions and important duties:

grown-up life
is like eating speed or flying a plane
it’s too bright,
it’s too bright
. . . “

And then the same song breaks into a pause, a reverie, and over a muted piano melody Caws muses quietly:

behind every desire
is another one
waiting to be liberated
when the first one’s sated

Such is life through the lens of Nada Surf’s stunningly fantastic fifth album, Lucky, which comes out February 5th on Barsuk Records. Folks, this is poised to be my favorite record of the year at the rate that I’ve been listening to on my iPod, in the car, on repeat til the CD gets hot. Rare is the album that’s this sonically pleasing with equal depth and nuance in the lyrics.

The sixteen years that Matthew Caws, Ira Elliot, and Daniel Lorca have been making music together show in the confident elegance of this multi-hued album. It’s full of earnest flourishes that pay homage to sublime sounds of the past, from the cascade of harmonies at the end of “Weightless” that feel like super-relaxed Beach Boys in a hammock, to the ‘oooo oooo oooo’s in “Are You Lightning?” that remind me of waiting on a friend. I’m addicted to the way this album sounds, with the shimmering landslides of melody, the driving rhythms, the bright chime of the guitars.

Nada Surf, like the rest of us, are growing up. The opening song, “See These Bones,” wrestles a bit with that mortality (“what you are now, we were once / but just like we are, you’ll be dust“), and finds Caws singing this simple line that only really hit me after several listens:

too tired to eat
too hungry to sleep

Simple, right? Throwaway? . . . No. The ache and the weariness in his voice when he sings these lines gets me. He’s talking about being unable to fulfill needs and desires, each one competing with the other for primacy, and what a draining place that is to find yourself in.

But in addition to their observations about this thing called adult life, there’s also a pervasive and uplifting theme throughout on the love of music and its ability to shine a light. My absolute favorite song on this album is “Beautiful Beat,” whose chorus has these soaring lines:

beautiful beat get me out of this mess
beautiful beat lift me up from distress
. . . I believe our love can save me
have to believe that it can

It’s that faith in the redeeming power in music that I find so heartening, and why I am thrilled about this album. It’s a must-buy for you in 2008 (pre-order it here). I’ll be seeing Nada Surf in San Francisco next weekend and bringing you guys an interview. I’ve heard amazing things about the power of their live show, and next Saturday will be an acoustic set that should really let those harmonies show brilliantly.

Nada Surf is now streaming the entire album on their MySpace, so go listen. Start with “Beautiful Beat,” then go back to the first and listen all the way through to the flawless, gorgeous final notes of “The Film Did Not Go ‘Round.” Walk away feeling sated that albums like this still exist.

See These Bones (with Ben Gibbard) – Nada Surf

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  • It is a live show that you won’t soon forget. These guys are absolutely fantastic! Just saw them two months ago and they were so tight! Can’t wait to hear the new album!

    G — January 24, 2008 @ 1:21 pm

  • Ah! I didn’t know Nada Surf was coming to town! With Port O’Brien, too. And of course, it’s sold out. Just my luck. Oh well; Vampire Weekend is still playing at Popscene on Thursday! So three cheers to tickets-at-the-door-only!

    John Larsen — January 24, 2008 @ 1:22 pm

  • Fab writing!

    russell — January 24, 2008 @ 3:16 pm

  • This is worthy of so much more comment.It reminds of these great lines from the Comsat Angels ‘Indepedence day’ – “I can’t stand up and I can’t sit down
    ‘cos a great big problem stopped me in my tracks
    I can’t relax ‘cos I haven’t done a thing
    and I can’t do a thing ‘cos I can’t relax”

    That’s the too tired too eat segment…..

    But the Sharks and the Jets lines are also brilliant in their sense of the blinkers of tribalism and the haunting ‘call in the morning’ suggesting work,routine or terrible news.These are great lyrics – personally – seriously – more people should ‘look alive’ and listen to this song – it just nails that indefinable sadness of time potential and age/ageing…..

    As you can see I am enjoying this one…the beginning reminds a little of REM’s ‘Drive’.

    Russell — January 25, 2008 @ 9:20 am

  • Seeing them in Feb. and April, can’t wait. I have such high expectations from these guys and they never disappoint.

    Are You Lightning is beautiful. I’ve added it as a slow dance during my wedding reception.

    Jeff — January 25, 2008 @ 12:40 pm

  • At Christmas we didn’t talk too much about it, glad to hear that it’s so good. Can’t wait to get it!

    JJ — January 25, 2008 @ 1:49 pm

  • Awesome write up!

    In December my firstborn daughter turned one years old and I have recently realized that I am about to grow up and be a man and father. This album looks like it could be the sound track of my life in 2008 :)

    Great blog by the way!

    I just found it when searching for information on Hello Stranger. They have a lovely song called Devil’s Highway off the original soundtrack for Wong Kar Wai’s film My Blueberry Nights. That girls voice put a hook in me and I just have to hear more of her music.

    It does seem like we have similar taste in music so I will be back again and check out what is on your playlists.

    dubmusic — January 26, 2008 @ 2:12 am

  • I’m really looking forward to this album but I’m holding off on listening to the stream, so I can come to it fresh when I buy. Sure, I’ve heard a couple songs but I’d rather let it sink in. I did the same with the new Drive-By Truckers and listening to that as a whole on my stereo has been a great experience.

    Anyway, I’ve really been enjoying your blog!

    Justin — January 26, 2008 @ 12:59 pm

  • Great post, I am loving this album too, and am really excited for Sat, as well as seeing them in March too. Keep up the good work, I appreciate all the work that goes into this blog.

    Murph — January 27, 2008 @ 7:06 pm

  • as much as i like this album, it seems to lack some ‘weight’
    as gorgeous as it sounds, i am not sure if it will have any longevity for me

    drew — February 17, 2008 @ 4:24 am

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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