Nada Surf - You Know Who You Are (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Nada Surf

You Know Who You Are (2016)

Barsuk Records

As a music reviewer, I feel like I’m almost obligated, when writing a review of a Nada Surf album, to focus on comparing it to their 1996 one-hit mainstream single, “Popular.” It seems as if it’s the only thing anyone can talk about when it comes to Nada Surf’s modern material. But as we’re a few short months away from the 20th anniversary of the release of the album that produced that song, it’s starting to seem unfair that we keep comparing everything they do to one song from that long ago. Two decades ago, I was 12, and I don’t particularly want to be compared to the person I was then. I’m sure Nada Surf doesn’t want to be compared to that, either, especially as they’ve come so far. “Popular” was positively dripping with a distinctly 90’s sense of sardonic bitterness with a strong post-grunge aesthetic, where as, starting with 2002’s Let Go, Nada Surf have reinvented themselves as the modern, indie-pop answer to Pet Sounds era Beach Boys.

My biggest problem with their new album is its title. I realize that sounds like a small detail to quibble about, but it really bugs me. It’s such a lackluster, bland title that I keep forgetting it. Luckily, when I ask Siri to play the album, she pretty much recognizes whatever combination of nondescript, boring words I manage to string together like “You Think About It” or “You Know What You Do.” Maybe I’m just spoiled because Nada Surf’s 2012 effort, The Stars are Indifferent to Astronomy was one of he best album titles I’ve ever heard of.

Thankfully, you can’t judge this book by its cover, and You Think You Can or whatever it’s called is a much better album than its terrible title suggests. It appears to primarily be a break-up album, with “Believe You’re Mine” giving us one of the most heart-wrenching tales of lost love that Nada Surf has ever constructed. Hell, it might be the saddest song that Nada Surf has ever produced, using their talent for haunting melodies to really twist the knife. But they start to heal the wound immediately with the more upbeat “Friend Hospital.” From that point on, the album, like all good Nada Surf albums, is taking us on a journey out of the dark. It even literally has a song called “Out of the Dark.” “Victory’s Yours” ends the album on a very hopeful note of moving on after saying goodbye to a lover.

Still, You Know You’re a Bird or Something is an album that would probably be more impressive if it didn’t follow a streak of near-perfect albums from this band. Really, the last time that Nada Surf truly put out a bad album was 1998. You Hope You Think I Am follows pretty much the same formula as their last four albums of original material, The Stars are Indifferent to Astronomy, Lucky, The Weight is a Gift, and Let Go, only with slightly fewer up-tempo rock numbers than usual. If Nada Surf is in a rut, it’s the best kind of rut to be in, because it keeps producing the same high quality output, but You Know Who You Are (aw crap, I got it right this time, didn’t I?) doesn’t really do anything to up the ante from what we’ve come to expect from Nada Surf.