It's safe to say that Nada Surf are in their late, high period. The biography is well known: already relegated to "one hit wonder" status having never followed up their breakthrough 1996 single Popular with any notable successes, the band faded into near oblivion before exploding back onto the indie pop scene with 2002's fantastic album Let Go. Since the resurgence the band has released a steady stream of high quality, low impact long players near bi-annually. The Stars Are Indifferent To Astrology is their latest, following up 2010's If I Had A Hi-Fi.
Eschewing straight pop hooks per se, the band relies more on Matthew Caws's sweet tenor and obliquely introspective lyricism to differentiate themselves. The musical elements aren't excessive or overwrought. In today's indie environment, replete with tweeier-than-thou preciousness and overbearing look-at-me theatrics, Nada Surf's straight rock riffs can seem slightly uninteresting. They are not mining the 1990s ironically, here. They are simply playing updated, less distorted versions of those same chords. It's where they've always lived. But it's a smart decision to keep the audio elements in the back of the mix, because Caws is the reason people come to Nada Surf in the first place.
Caws writes songs of love and intermittent heartache. That is to say, he writes pop music. His lyrics border on the poetic. You aren't likely to hear Teenage Dreams remixed and pumped through the latest club fad. There's little of the earworm madness of Carly Rae Jepson in.
You have the feeling
Through everyone's overtalking
We sit, we wait, and we empty our plates
Let's prove that this year something's coming
Sometimes I ask the wrong questions
But I get the right answers
Moved to a tear by
A subway breakdancer
Caws writes adult lyrics and expects adult listeners to appreciate his work. Which is not to say the band isn't still trying to write a good pop song. Only that their definition of what a good pop song might entail probably removes them from any potential 15-24 year old demographics.
The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy is a very good album. Standout tracks include album opener Clear Eyed Clouded Mind, When I Was Young, the aforementioned Teenage Dreams, Let The Fight Do The Fighting and the typically fantastic No Snow On The Mountain. The latter of those in particular encapsulates Nada Surf's ability to utilize mostly standard grunge era rock riffs, softened and blurred around the edges, and Caws singing and song-writing excellence, to create high quality art.
I'm not sure this album stands up to Nada Surf's peak albums - Let Go and The Weight Is A Gift both seem more fully realized, fuller sounding, with more hits and less misses generally, than The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy. And clocking in just a smidge over a half hour long, it feels a little short as well. But this album is, at the very least, another fine offering from a mature, confident pop rock band in the midst of a decade long run of high quality work.