Review: Nada Surf – The Stars are Indifferent to Astronomy
Published on February 7th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
The buzz: New York three-piece release sixth studio album, not including 2010 covers album If I Had a Hi-Fi. Chris Shaw (Super Furry Animals, Wilco, Brendan Benson) took on production duties, while former Guided By Voices guitarist Doug Gillard and Calexico multi-instrumentalist Martin Wenk joined in the recording process. Quoth front man Matthew Caws…
We’ve always played faster and a little harder live, but we’d play so carefully in the studio. So with this album, we made a conscious decision to preserve what it felt like in the practice room, when you play with that new-song energy; just embrace it and not worry whether we’re overdoing it, kind of get all the thinking out of the way.
“Clear Eye Clouded Mind”
Sounds like: An accomplished power-pop record that’s easy to like, but not a whole lot more than that. Opener “Clear Eye Clouded Mind” comes crashing in as if halfway through, doing good by Caws’s promise of live energy, and alongside the ensuing “Waiting for Something” it makes for an energising, bittersweet, sweet tooth-indulging start to the record. So far so good, at least in terms of songs that’ll get you bouncing up and down at a festival or singing wistfully along when they pop into your head during a pleasantly sozzled night out with friends.
It’s all too easy to be condescending to such straightforward blasts of uplifting pop, and there are on tracks such as “When I Was Young” and “Let the Fight Do the Fighting” hints of expansiveness, even if just by dint of a Bacharach horn section in the case of the latter, but even the relatively short running order of ten tracks cannot stave off the urge to throw on some Frank Zappa and dance about on a bed of nails. Okay, that’s clearly an exaggeration, but when you can take a Depeche Mode song and regurgitate it as pleasant harmony-pop, as Nada Surf did with “Enjoy the Silence” on If I Had a Hi-Fi, there’s got to be a case for shaking things up a bit.
“When I Was Young”
Inimitability is not and should not be the sole measure of a great album – indeed, there is plenty to like here, perhaps even love should it catch you at the right moment – but the overriding impression is one of a band stuck in a comfort zone, albeit one that doubles up as a sweet spot. On The Stars are Indifferent to Astronomy, Nada Surf consolidate their metaphorical likeness to a friend who’s welcome round any time but rarely makes much of an impression. Still, not a bad thing to have around.
In a few words: Good songs, good musicianship and good production, but here’s a band that sounds like they’d need to risk doing something bad in order to ever do something truly great.
Kind of like a cross between: The latter-day versions of Ash and Teenage Fanclub