Album Review: Nada Surf - 'The Stars are Indifferent to Astronomy'

13 July 2012 | 2:00 am | Staff Writer
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A mix of 90's alternative rock and faux-indie that is still delightful to listen to.

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You probably all know the song, Popular by Nada Surf from 1996. It was a big hit at the time, and I won't lie, a fairly average Weezer-esque take on the non-threatening "alternative" rock that sporadically made waves during the mid 90's. You know the type. Based purely on only really knowing that one song, I wasn't expecting too much when I embarked to review this album. That being said, I was pleasantly surprised. 

The album is still something of a step back in time... not to 1996, but closer to 1999, with it's upbeat and catchy songs . Alas, it's over a decade too late, but this stuff is largely what Counting Crows wish they had been doing around that period. I have always had a soft spot for this kind of music, as it largely the first music I actually really took a liking to. Thirteen years later, it fills me with nostalgia and although I no longer relate to it, I think that although a dying niche, it's one I'll always hold close to me.

All that being said, as tiring as that niche may be, and as irrelevant as it is at this place in time, Nada Surf have made themselves a quality album here. Whilst the general basis of the album is 90's-esque pop rock, there are delightfully subtle hints of other genres in there. A bit of indie folk, a bit of whatever the kids call Indie nowadays. Whether this is at attempt at retaining relevance or not - it works. 

Questions of relevance aside, the album is undoubtedly anthemic. Every song is catchy enough to be a Billboard-charting single. (Notably, the album did in fact make it to 86 on the Billboard album charts) The French-classic christened Jules and Jim in particular is an epitome of pop songwriting whilst retaining credability that would let you blast it on your stereo without a hint of shame. 

Unfortunately, whilst it's indisputably a quality album, where it falls short is the pacing. The lack of dynamics makes every track seem to blend into one. Were this a concept album, I would condone this, but it makes for an uneventful listen. Every track could be a single in itself, as I said before - but this effectively gives the album the feel of a Greatest Hits collection - except with songs that aren't yet greatest hits.

This album is an impressive feat of pop songwriting. Nada Surf as a band have oftentimes neglected their potential, but this album shows what their previous efforts have arguably lacked. It's good, if easy listening the whole way through, but a few token louder pieces or a straight up ballad would be nice to interrupt the constant verse-chorus structures that make it up in its entirety. If you're already a fan, this album is no doubt a standout amongst the band's back catalogue, and if you're not, it's a pretty good place to start. But maybe put it on shuffle with some other songs, or it will border on monotiny. A solid effort, it earns its high rating thoroughly.