"The Stars are Indifferent to Astronomy" by Nada Surf
By Andrew W. Griffin
Red Dirt Report, editor
Posted: November 1, 2012
CD REVIEW: Nada Surf – The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy (Barsuk) 2012
Seven albums in and seemingly a lifetime since their hit “Popular” graced MTV and cooler radio outlets, alt-rock trio has managed to carve out a niche in popular (ha!) music that has served them well.
Sure, most people know little about Nada Surf beyond the high-school angst of the slow-burning “Popular,” so when you tell somebody that Nada Surf has a new album, you are likely met with a shrug.
Their loss. Listening to a Nada Surf album in 2012 is a revelation. It’s a joy. And it’s a guilty pleasure. Picking up this year’s The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy, I was struck by the bittersweet energy that fills these 10 songs.
What is it about alt-rock trios like Nada Surf that bring out the tear-your-heart-out emotions many of us haven’t felt since high school? (Think Velvet Crush, Husker Du, Better Than Ezra, Buffalo Tom, etc.) Somehow these guys, now on the taller end of their 40’s, are able to channel that youthful energy that for some bands who hit it big in the 90’s sounds a little pathetic. Not Nada Surf.
The crackling opener, “Clear Eye Clouded Mind,” hums along with an urgency you don’t hear much these days. Drummer Ira Elliot is clearly in control on this song, as is singer Matthew Caws, who sings the line “The stars are indifferent to astronomy / And all that we think we know / Mars will salute your autonomy / But he doesn’t need to know” as if he lived it.
Caws’ chiming guitar opening on “Waiting For Something” is introducing something melancholic and beautiful. There is definitely a longing in Caws’ voice as he melodically sings “It always feels like I’m waiting for something.” Yeah, man, aren’t we all?
The earnest and middle-aged Caws takes Elliot and bassist Daniel Lorca on a trip down memory lane with his “When I Was Young.” Gen X’ers will clue in to his rerun references to The Professor and Mary Ann, pictures of ourselves “in heavily-edited Seventies” and “longer days at the park / and dinners with no drama.” Sigh!
A similar sentiment is shared on “Teenage Dreams,” a “looking back” song that isn’t quite realized in the way that Caws probably originally intended. Sure, it’s “never too late for teenage dreams,” but I bet if Caws was a teenager, listening to this song while hanging out at the mall, I don’t think he would’ve found it cool. I guess that doesn’t really matter, though.
“The Future,” another track dealing with growing older, resonates more than “Teenage Dreams.”
Sweet-sounding, mid-tempo rockers like “Jules and Jim” are solid examples of what the Surf can do, as is the slightly 70’s-inspired plea for the ecology “The Moon is Calling.” And yet, there is another environmental-tinged song, “No Snow on the Mountain” that seems to also use a clear-cut logging reference as a relationship metaphor as well. I bet Al Gore would dig it. Me? Meh.
But don’t let that deter you. I guarantee you’ll get a tingly, Mary Tyler Moore-throwing-her-hat-in-the-air sort of feeling when you hear that Burt Bacharach-inspired trumpet on “Let the Fight Do the Fighting.”
What I love about The Stars is that a band like Nada Surf can write and record great guitar-based pop-rock with a brain. There are so few examples of smart pop these days. Oh, it’s out there, but you really have to seek it out. With Nada Surf, look no further than The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy. Your intelligence won’t be insulted.
For more information go to www.nadasurf.com.
Copyright 2012 Red Dirt Report