Nada Surf - The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Nada Surf

The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy (2012)

Barsuk Records

It must be weird sometimes to be in Nada Surf, if only because they still get judged by a song that becomes increasingly unrepresentative of their body of work. I'm referring, of course, to "Popular," from their pretty nifty grunge-esque record High/Low. I happen to like that song, even though it's an anomaly of sorts compared to Nada Surf's releases from 2002's Let Go onward.

I mention this because my first impression of the group's latest record, The Stars are Indifferent to Astronomy, was, "Yep, this sounds like Nada Surf." But it's not the Nada Surf non-fans would be familiar with. Stars is very much on par in quality and style with the group's other Barsuk releases. This is agreeable indie rock. It's not too dissonant, not too clean. Its surprises are minuscule in scope, but that's no big deal, because Nada Surf can be depended on for pleasant tunes.

The biggest little surprise of Stars is that the songs are actually kind of muscular in structure, at least compared to Lucky or The Weight is a Gift. Opening tracks "Clear Eye Clouded Mind" and "Waiting For Something" deliver a one-two punch of energetic playing and anthemic choruses. "Waiting For Something" is arguably one of the catchiest songs Nada Surf has ever written. The chorus is pretty simple--it's more or less just the title repeated four times--but frontman/guitarist Matthew Caws has such a warm, comforting singing voice that he sells it.

There are certainly softer tracks on the record that are more classically Nada Surfy, like "When I Was Young" and "Jules and Jim." The record tries to balance these two impulses, and while it does a decent job of waxing/waning, it never quite recaptures the energy of the first two songs. Still, tracks like "The Moon is Calling," originally heard last year on a Record Store Day single, pack some punch.

The record's second half picks up the pace somewhat. "Teenage Dreams" has some nice pep, "Looking Through" is the second catchiest song on the record" and "No Snow on the Mountain" packs some heft. "The Future" closes out the album with a note on getting older: "The future looks like a screen / And I cannot believe the future's happening to me." For a band that's been going 20 years now, I can see the relevance in that sentiment.