Nada Surf is probably best known for its 1996 hit, “Popular” — a nice ode to a high schooler’s dating angst. It had the spirit of Weezer’s “Sweater Song,” yet less refined. Nonetheless, it’s a fun song, even if it is eye-cringing.
“The Stars are Indifferent to Astronomy,” the title of the most recent effort of New York alt-rockers Nada Surf, is somewhat fitting as it is indicative of exactly how I feel about the record: indifferent. Its essence is similar to that of “Popular,” in that the record is potentially attractive but seems rough. Nada Surf’s latest release is jumbled with sounds without any sense of distinctiveness throughout.
Lyrically, the album is not predictable, nor is it particularly moving or poetic. It is a tinge cliché. The album’s space-themed opener, “Clear Eye Clouded Mind” has lead singer-songwriter Matthew Caws chanting the album’s title as well as his salute to Mars’ autonomy. It is followed lazily by the anxious “Waiting for Something.” It continues into more exhausted songwriting elements in “When I Was Young.” These sorts of lyrical issues continue throughout the record, creating a flat, hardly cathartic landscape.
In a sense, the album’s lyricism is supported by the songs’ arrangement. However, this is not done in the way I’m sure Nada Surf intended — the instrumentation and lyrics are equal in dull quality. Sure, the tunes are extremely approachable, and fitting for a nice feature on VH1 in the mornings, a la Carolina Liar or The Fray. Caws has a clean-cut vocal quality that is perfect for a not-too-loud, adult alternative sound. “Jules and Jim” and “Teenage Dreams” are representative of this style. There is a cutesy, meshing melodic, chiming guitar, not to be overlooked by lyrics of being in love or nostalgia.
Even with my nit-picking, Nada Surf has an audience. It has a sound that people have latched onto in the mainstream music scene for the last half-decade or so. There will be people who will be capable of ignoring its unrefined qualities in melody and lyricism. Regardless, “The Stars are Indifferent to Astronomy” seems to be lacking in character and excitement.