Nada Surf - ‘The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy’

Prior to the release of their sixth original album, ‘The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy’, Nada Surf announced their intent for a return to a more visceral, practice room aesthetic. For a band whose retreat from skate-punk tinged alternative rock testosterone (and with it commercial growth) came almost immediately after the buzz of their one and only college radio hit back in ‘95, the surprise is not their disenchantment with overdoing it in the studio, but simply that it didn’t happen sooner. However, although their opening riff, a meaty juggernaut of chip-board distortion, is a valiant statement that their dreams of time-travelling reinvigoration are earnest, most of what comes afterwards, much like the misguided softening that stunted their career after ‘High/Low’, is a bit of a wimp out.

The onion layers of guitar overdubs, with synths, glockenspiels and horns all making appearances, may bring into question how much their supposed practice room aesthetic has been realised, but it’s still Nada Surf’s best piece of work for a while. And whilst age may not have brought much maturity, it has brought some depth – Beach Boys harmonies crop up in ‘Waiting For Something’ and some of the riffs in ‘When I Was Young’ have an almost Sigur Ros-like lumber – they’ve been doing their homework. Their ability to solder hook upon hook is still as sharp as ever – it’s hard not to feel a tad bitter for them, their songwriting proficiency was clearly robbed of bigger and better rewards.

However, as is often the case in aging college rock bands, the cringey nostalgia that a prolonged career can bring is self-indulgent and alienating for new audiences. Key lyrics like “it’s never too late for teenage dreams”, “how many dreams do we hold on to” and “it always feels like I’m waiting for something” are straight out of the has-been guidebook, but at the same time express a sense of awkward discomfort at living in the past. Perhaps the apt naming of their finale - ‘The Future’ - is a sign that they are finally ready to move on.

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