Nada Surf have managed to squeeze in several lives over the course of almost two decades together. They’ve been called one-hit wonders, sophomore slumpers, dead-and-goners, and have emerged relatively unscathed to find themselves in the year 2012.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that guitarist-vocalist Matthew Caws knows his way around a pop hook or two. And while Nada Surf’s 1996 debut LP High/Low fit perfectly with the times, and their single “Popular” essentially became a parody of the self-loathing ’90s, the New York trio more than made up for it with the pristine pop found on later releases, most notably 2005’s near-perfect The Weight Is a Gift.
The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy may be a mouthful to say, but the contents within are straight to the point—10 songs, no filler, that won’t necessarily knock you out of your seat, but rather leave you wanting to lean back and stay a while.
That’s not to say the album lacks energy. Opener “Clear Eye Clouded Mind” sets the pace with furious guitar strums and ratatat drumming, while Caws’ vocals hover sweetly above. In fact, with the exception of lead single “When I Was Young” and “Let the Fight Do the Fighting,” Stars cruises along with an immediacy that’s been missing from the last two Nada Surf records. And of course Stars is dripping with sentimentality. “Teenage Dreams” is the highlight here as Caws continues his tradition of love it-or-hate it turns of phrase as he waxes about being moved to tears by a subway breakdancer: “Sometimes I ask the wrong questions, but I get the right answers.”
A lot of credit should be given to the rhythm-section of bassist Daniel Lorca and drummer Ira Elliot, who are lock-step throughout. Perhaps even more credit should go to producer Chris Shaw, who smartly pushes them up in the mix while deftly balancing live grit with studio sheen. And Caws’ vocals have never sounded better, still capable of breaking a heart or two.
At the end of the day Nada Surf aren’t particularly sexy or easy to compartmentalize. They’ve simply survived on their songs. Then again, at the end of the day a great pop song is all you need.