Music Reviews
The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy

Nada Surf The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy

(City Slang) Buy it from Insound Rating - 8/10

I don’t think many will disagree that Nada Surf are not the most elegant musically or eloquent lyrically.  It would be worse to argue that they’ve been progressively thought-provoking or original.  The usual protocol for a Nada Surf album has been determining the ratio of hits and misses.  There’s probably no greater example of this jagged track list than 2002’s Let Go, and album that at once contains some really good songs (opener Blizzard of ’77 is still a favorite) and some throwaways (um … La Pour Ca?).  With Let Go and the 2005 album The Weight is a Gift, Nada Surf seemed to be trying to reinvent a band that was embarrassed of its roots while trying to measure up to the likes of Death Cab for Cutie and Built to Spill. Unable to match Ben Gibbard’s ability to turn inanimate objects into testimonials of the human condition (I mean, really, who would have thought of the glove compartment?), Matthew Caws’ lyrics have always been a little clumsy and lightweight.  The band behind him wasn’t much better, often trailing off in the uninspired lands of indie mediocrity. 

Nada Surf’s 2008 album, Lucky, was a step towards something memorable.   Not only did the production make the overall sound tighter, but it sounded like the band had actually taken time to arrange the music, and Caws sounded more confident than ever.  If anything, Nada Surf have taken the initiative that made Lucky so successful and followed it to create the energetic peaks of The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy (first impression: the best-named Nada Surf album).   

The vocal hooks and catchy choruses that have brought Nada Surf this far have only gotten better, and for once, it sounds as if Caws has become content with the sound of his voice.  In terms of melody, Stars is an album of finely-crafted indie rock songs.  Opener Clear Eye Clouded Mind will surely take any Nada Surf fan by surprise with just how energized the band sound under Caws, whose delivery has never been better.   This pulse is shared throughout the album, specifically on Teenage Dreams, The Moon is Calling, and Waiting for Something.  These moments of buzzing guitars and strong melodic hooks are spaced with ballads that have come a long way since the so-simple-it’s-good Inside of LoveJules and Jim and Let the Fight do the Fighting have a refreshing mix of youthful nostalgia and mature introspection, while the standout song, When I Was Young, is a bit like Nada Surf’s Dust in the Wind

While it’s too early to lay the cards down, I want to believe that The Stars are Indifferent to Astronomy will prove to be a 2012 favorite.  And I know that this album still has the compelling emotional weight of a small pebble.  The point is that the album proves that Nada Surf have unearthed an identity that no longer relies on being mentioned in the same breath as a more distinct and beloved indie band.  As Matthew Caws sings on Teenage Dream, “Sometimes I ask the wrong questions, but I get the right answers.”  Well, it’s better late than never.