Nada Surf are an anomaly. They emerged in the mid Nineties with the summer anthem ‘Popular’. Something of a novelty song, Matthew Caws' sarcastic vocal delivery called out high schoolers in a droll hooky fashion. In every respect it could have made the band a classic contender for the one hit wonder tag. But to their credit Nada Surf managed to side step the particular pitfalls associated with that, avoided fading into obscurity, and forged a career that now finds them in their twenty-fourth year as a band.
They’ve gently plugged away all that time releasing record after record of guitar power pop: never breaking into the big time, but doggedly keeping their heads above water with catchy, accessible guitar music that strangely never found the audience 'Popular' did.
The world is very different today. Back then people were still buying CDs from record shops, the internet wasn’t the domineering beast it is today, and there was a more solid sense of musical genres. Dance, pop and guitar music had distinct lines not generally crossed by either artists’s or audiences. In many respects music is much more fluid now, and it’s interesting to see how Nada Surf have reacted to that cultural shift. Quite simply, they haven’t changed a damn thing.
Listening to You Know Who You Are you could be mistaken for thinking it’s still the late Nineties/early Noughties. It’s the kind of music that would have you believe Friends is still the all-conquering TV show of choice, carbs are a perfectly socially acceptable foodstuff and wearing Global Hypercolor t-shirts is a good idea (despite highlighting your sweaty armpits to all and sundry). Heady times.
All the familiar elements are in place. Take the classic driving drums and and sunshine chorus of opener ‘Cold To See Clear’ and ‘New Bird’ or the downtempo jangle of ‘Believe You’re Mine’s tale of unrequited love - it’s Nada Surf by numbers. And there are many pleasures in finding the band exactly as you remember them - like a warm blanket of nostalgia.
Where the album does stumble is the lack of an out and out pop banger like ‘Inside of Love’. Rather than burrow into your brain, the lush harmonies on tracks like ‘Friend Hospital’ and ‘Victory’s Yours’, wash over you in a gentle fashion never making the impression that songs like ‘Blonde On Blonde’ did. It’s all very pleasant, but lacks the skewed perspective of contemporaries like Pavement, that save them from sounding dated. Nada Surf have no such safety net - instead they most sincerely are what they are.
When all is said and done it’s difficult to criticise such a solid set of songs. It’s an album of perfectly executed guitar pop, and it’s equally hard not to fall for the simple, lovely pleasures of tracks like ‘Rushing’. They have yet again created a record of consistent dependability, but sadly it fails to excite and veers too close to the middle of the road.
Nada Surf know who they are, as do we, and maybe that isn’t quite enough any more. Times change, people move on.
5Bekki Bemrose 's Score