This New York trio have not had an easy ride of it. A dozen years of music-making as Nada Surf has seen them encounter legal wrangles with record labels over their own work, brief overnight major label success and a three-year forced break during which they took regular day jobs toiling in record shops, on computer projects, and as session musicians for other artists.
Yet it seems to have done the outfit good, as some of their finest offerings have been made following this hiatus, and most recent work Lucky is no exception. The fifth album is a career-defining release which finds the band honing and perfecting what they do best resulting in track after track of irresistible, infectious guitar pop. Kicking off with gorgeous harmony-filled opener See These Bones, the album swoops from upbeat scratchy riff-driven efforts such as I Like What You Say, Ice On The Wing and From Now On to genuinely moving ballads like the piano-tinged Beautiful Beat, the woozy slide guitar of Are You Lightning? and shimmering string-fuelled closer The Film Did Not Go Round.
These songs feature the talents of a few famous guest performers such as Death Cab For Cutie‘s Ben Gibbard, John Roderick of Long Winters, Harvey Danger‘s Sean Nelson and Martin Wenk of Calexico. Yet it is Weightless, with added key tinkles courtesy of Ed Harcourt which proves to be the record’s stand out moment as violins and wind sections dance playfully around an intoxicating melody.
Fans will notice there is a real focus on both the personal and the political in the latest incarnation of Nada Surf, as frontman Matthew Caw references everything from the start of a long-awaited romance, his grandfather’s adventures as a fighter pilot and an ambulance driver in two world wars and his father’s rearing in and escape from a British religious cult to government lies mirroring the delusions of a relationship. And it makes for compelling stuff when combined with Caw’s bittersweet vocal delivery and music that is unashamedly heartfelt and instantly hummable.
Where many acts’ endeavours in a similar vein result in creations that are overly saccharine and ultimately un-listenable, this threesome are by now adept are avoiding such musical pitfalls and while Lucky is easily their poppiest, most accessible album to date, it has a depth that sets it apart from your every day guitar-based chart fodder. In a world where The Kooks and The Pigeon Detectives are inexplicably celebrated, we need acts like Nada Surf around.