Lucky, the title of Nada Surf's fifth album, is at once literal and ironic. Like the songs that singer- guitarist Matthew Caws, bassist Daniel Lorca and drummer Ira Elliot crafted for their previous two albums, Let Go (2003) and The Weight Is A Gift (2005), Lucky is filled with images of restlessness, longing and the elusiveness of love. Yet the band counterbalances the lyrical bittersweetness with a musical buoyancy. Intimate songs become in-it-together anthems, thanks to the chiming guitars, propulsive rhythms, and the emotional candor in Caws' vocals. A song like "Beautiful Beat" segues from a sparsely arranged, confessional first verse into a harmony-laden chorus and reaches multi-layered, canon-like proportions before the track fades out. If Caws is often suggesting that romance and resolution may still be an inch or two out of reach, he’s also proffering immediate musical solace. Turn up the volume, hit the repeat button, and your troubles, for a blissful three minutes or so, will disappear.
“I tend to be pretty hopeful about things further in the future, but can be relatively anxious about the next eight hours or so,” half-jokes Caws, “Unlike my friend John Flansburgh [They Might Be Giants], who says he's manic depressive without the depression, I think I'm manic depressive without the mania. Yet I'm ready to be cheerful at the drop of a reason.” That’s reflected in the seemingly contradictory minor-key joy in Caws’ melodies. As he explains, “My immediate family is not religious, but we went to church whenever we visited my grandmother in North Carolina at Christmas and Easter. I loved singing hymns and I liked the solemnity of the service and the feeling of release when the pipe organ was played as we walked out. I think I’m always looking for that same rapture in music.”
The three members of Nada Surf have played together now for a dozen years. They’ve survived overnight major-label success and the inevitable morning-after bleariness, persevering past obstacles that would have sunk a less resilient combo to become one of America’s most truly independent bands. Experience has only made their work richer, bringing gravity to the subject matter and lightness to its presentation. Keeping things honest – and often rapturous -- has become a modus operandi. Lorca, who first met Caws at their mutual grammar school, explains, “When Matthew and I decided we were going to start our own band and that we were going to sing, we set a couple of rules. One of them was that we would not sing in any affected sort of way, that we would sing the way we talked. Another is that we would write about things that were close to us and about our lives. “
Having survived and thrived, Nada Surf indeed has a lot to feel lucky about. After listening to this new album, though, it becomes clear that we are really the fortunate ones . . .
Listen to Nada Surf
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