January 17, 2012

Album Review: Nada Surf's The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy

Now in their 18th year as a band, Nada Surf have defied the odds and survived pitfalls many artists from the '90s major label alt-rock scene have not. A stint early in their career on Elektra inevitably led to a legal battle (which they won) over the rights to their sophomore LP, The Proximity Effect after the label deemed the album commercially flawed and unreleasable. Yet, the band's lackluster experiences early on with the recording industry hasn't deterred them from marching forward without compromise and making music on their own terms. No longer playing by the rules of big time A&R execs, Nada Surf has found rewardingly larger success among the indie ranks on Barsuk Records, a label which has supported every studio effort by the Brooklyn trio since their acclaimed 2004 "return," Let Go. Seven albums into their career, Nada Surf continues to establish themselves as one of alt-rock's most dependable veteran and learned acts through a wisely iterated turn on The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy.

In the album's bouyant opener, "Clear Eye Clouded Mind," frontman Matthew Caws sings out, "All I feel is transition to be alone." This string of words ominously permeates the core of The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy, a self-reflective body of music where each song addresses themes of growing up and yearning for the glory days of yesterday ("When I Was Young", "Looking Through") or having a bravely optimistic outlook on the way your adult life has turned out even when it doesn't look the one you envisioned as a 10-year-old ("Waiting for Something," "The Moon Is Calling," "The Future.") Track by track, the album plays like a how-to guide in surviving a quarter life crisis, and who better to navigate listeners through life's trials and tribulations than three guys who've come out on top in the face of unexpected adversity. Given the album's themes, The Stars Are Indifferent... could have easily turned into a dark, quiet body of work. Instead, energized hooks and bouncy power pop chords brighten up The Stars...' corners, making lines like "It's never too late for teenage dreams..." (from the standout "Teenage Dreams") resonate as truth when they leave Caws' lips.

The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy marks a final transition of sorts for Nada Surf, former one-hit wonders who once waded the harsh waters of the major leagues into Nada Surf, now elder statesmen of the alt-indie scene. Although it's their strongest effort since Let Go, LP 7 doesn't deviate far from the post-grunge pop-rock they've been hatching for nearly two decades now nor does it try to reinvent their sound. It however offers up a plateful of encouraging food for thought to their aging late 20-to-30-something-year-old fans: You can't grow up without being disappointed, but as the wise-worded Matthew Caws assures listeners, sometimes your life turns out for the best when it strays away from plans. After all, Nada Surf are living proof of this.


Nada Surf's The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy will be released January 24, 2012 on Barsuk Records.

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