Featuring big hooks and anthems, The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy is the most recent release from alt-rockers Nada Surf, and like their other six albums, it has its highs and lows that will keep their old fans content and probably be ignored by everyone else.
Nada Surf has a tendency for the grandiose, trying to fill a room with a U2-esque space rock (their intentions made clear by the album and song titles about stars, moons, and the future), but their most powerful statements are consistently in their quietest. Although the big sound of “Clear Eye Clouded Mind” isn’t without appeal, it is just a bit too much. When the instrumentation is simpler, almost everything else they do becomes better. The scaled-back bridge of “Waiting for Something” is the only part of the song where front man Matthew Caws stretches his voice into a Beach Boys style harmony that fringes on beautiful.
Their strengths are best perceived on “When I Was Young,” where the acoustic intro and his vocals create a pleasant melody which entices the listener before getting exploded into the powerful force which is the rest of the song. The production on this song gets it right, not giving away anything about where this song is going until a few minutes in, and then keeping the background instrumentation from overwhelming the foreground.
“Teenage Dreams” falls into one of the perils of modern alternative music, where verse, chorus, and bridge are individual elements pressed together when they are of no similarity to each other. Closing track “The Future” is just bland from beginning to end, with no exciting hook or riff to grab the listener. These tracks aren’t bad, there is just little to distinguish them from the modern rock and roll we avoid playing on WPGU 107.1 because it lacks anything worth hearing. Nada Surf show on this record that they can be better than those tracks, but sometimes they just aren’t.
Many reviewers feel the need to comment on Nada Surf’s supposed “one hit wonder” status, but given that ‘96 is not a year the college-going population of today remembers particularly well, Nada Surf is no different from any other alt-rock band in our minds.
For the Nada Surf fan, this record will not disappoint, but mostly because their last few records had the same strengths and weaknesses. To the casual listener, enjoy the singles and then continue on. If Nada Surf represents the stars, they seem to be pretty indifferent to what people think or write about them, and will continue to shine and make music that we’ll get to enjoy.
Rating: W – P
Key Tracks: “When I Was Young,” “No Snow On the Mountain,” “Jules and Jim”
RIYL: The Black Keys, Jimmy Eat World, The Fray
Check Out: “When I Was Young” at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fGbtj_IW1lo