It’s a Sunday afternoon. You are watching a film on the telly that you aren’t really paying attention to. In front of you there is an open packet of biscuits. You may or may not have already eaten a fair few of these biscuits (depending on how much you want to invest into this long winded introduction). The important point is, you know you don’t need to eat another biscuit; but yet, you do. It is going to taste exactly the same as the one you had a few minutes ago, but there is something oh so satisfying about throwing that tiny amount of caution to the wind and happily munching away. This is pretty much how I feel about Nada Surf’s new LP “You Know Who You Are”. It is completely moreish, and I am not really too sure why.
For those in the dark, Nada Surf are New York power-pop band most famous for their 1996 hit “Popular”. They have been releasing quality albums consistently for the last twenty years but have never really had any breakout success. What they have done is put a lot of time into carving out a very specific sound. Nada Surf’s sound is a combination of Matthew Caw’s crystalline tenor vocals, introspective and thought provoking lyrics and undeniably catchy choruses. All of this is wrapped up with the huge sound created by drummer Ira Elliot, bassist Daniel Lorca and the relatively new addition Doug Gillard on lead guitar.
“You Know Who You Are” is a quintessential Nada Surf album, and that’s kind of the problem. The album gets off to a rousing start with “Cold To See Clear” – a great track that really shows what Nada Surf have to offer. However, it is very familiar territory for the band. “Cold To See Clear” could have easily been on the bands’ 2012 release “The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy”. Nada surf have definitely matured their sound with this album: the songs aren’t as angsty and frenetic as before and the production is so much more lush and dreamlike than the previous album. But the writing hasn’t kept the pace, you don’t get the sense that the band are really trying any new approach at all. It feels a bit like a Nada Surf paint by numbers.
That being said, I don’t remember any point in this album that I wasn’t bobbing my head emphatically like that bulldog on TV that is always trying to sell you car insurance. There is a real sense of momentum through this album. All the songs are direct, catchy and completely engrossing. Everything sounds incredibly polished and the band all give truly great performances throughout. But, the real standout moments on this album are when the band try something new. The inclusion of a brass band on “Out Of The Dark”, The Jeff Tweedy-esque “Animal” or the haunting “Believe You’re Mine”. All these moments feel special and give the album character. But sadly they are quite few and far between.
Nada Surf aren’t reinventing the wheel with this album but what they have done is create ten nuggets of glorious grunge influenced pop-rock. This is a really charming album, and even though it may not be breaking the mould at every turn, it is ultimately a lot of fun to listen to. And like the aforementioned biscuits, just because something is similar to what came before doesn’t mean it can’t be great. Sometimes it’s fantastic, and sometimes you can feel proud of yourself for eating a whole packet of biscuits.
Nada Surf ‘You Know Who You Are’ is out on March 4th
Words by Will Calvert