Nada Surf - You Know Who You Are

Nada Surf – You Know Who You Are

If trends are thunderbolts, burning out in a flash in a desperate bid to be noticed, Nada Surf is a cloud drifting to its destination, confident of its place and immune from the fluctuating scenes around it.

The general consensus among music critics is that playing on proven strengths and retaining your existing fanbase signifies a lack of progression and is a firm negative for creative leaps forward. The flack currently being endured by Animal Collective upon the release of their latest album ‘Painting With…’ springs to mind.

Nada Surf have, on the whole, stayed true to a sound that works for them. Their 2010 covers record ‘If I had A Hi-fi’ presented an opportunity to abandon their singer-bassist-guitar holy trinity indie formula and throw a curveball, but the band chose tracks that guided them further along their well-defined musical path.

A part of me is curious to see Nada Surf run with something completely unexpected – a new style of composition or a flirtation with a genre that shifts their niche and generally shakes things up a little.

However, the fan in me, trying to curb the bias of enthusiasm and adoration, wonders; why veer from a signature sound that retains interest and functions as an identity?

Nada Surf’s key strengths are unashamedly flaunted in ’You Know Who You Are’. A recent interview with Vice magazine saw frontman Mathew Caws rate the band’s albums and really brought home just how long the former trio, now quartet, has been plugging away. Yet, Caws’ unique and unassuming vocal qualities and the transparent simplicity of his song writing never seem to date.

The result is that the band retains an innocent and wide-eyed freshness, rather the muddy footprints of cynicism and world-weariness. It is this vocal and song writing talent that gives Nada Surf the ability to appeal to new audiences seeking optimism among the pain of human experience.

This freshness is part of the band’s success – there is nothing prohibitive in Nada Surf’s material, nothing that says “you weren’t here from the start – you’re not going to get this…” – just relatable, unpretentious music that happily leaves the doors open for newcomers.

Every Nada Surf album seems to follow a pattern with regards to content – one or two riff-led heavy anthems, a couple of intense, introspective ballads, held together by, dare I say it, a touch of filler. In the case with ‘You Know Who You Are’,Cold to See Clear kicks things off with an anthemic, energetic push, not unlike Ice on the Wing from 2008’s ‘Lucky’. Out of the Dark and Rushing (my personal favourite of the album for its heart-on-sleeve optimism and unashamedly fairy tale video) are similarly upbeat with a spring-is-around-the-corner vibe. It is on these tracks that the addition of former Guided by Voices member Doug Gillard, who joined the line-up permanently in 2012, enhances the band’s layered sound and adds extra energy to Ira Elliott’s beats and Lorca-Caws’ harmonies.

On the bittersweet introspection side, Believe You’re Mine is one of the album’s strongest tracks, quietly accepting our self-destructive propensity to secretly hope for reconciliation in impossible circumstances.  “One day, I’ll love somebody else, one day, be good to myself. Do you know, I believe you’re mine.”

Friend Hospital, flitting between major and minor chords, is satisfyingly difficult to decipher, “So much better that we’re not together […] wild sadness, new weakness”, while Animal skilfully conveys the feeling of being on the edges of a happiness everyone else seem to have found, “I need you like a kite needs a string to get to the sky”.

‘You Know Who You Are’ is an apt name for Nada Surf’s self-assured latest offering, as is closing it with the affirming Victory is Yours. The band seems to be in a good place, hitting a niche they have not yet finished exploring and the benefits of that can be felt in this latest, although perhaps not their most memorable, album.

Nada Surf are enduring and faith-restoring proof that dedication, merit and fidelity to one’s strengths can not only pay the bills but retain a rare integrity in today’s fickle, trend-guided music industry.

Release Date 04/03/2016 (City Slang)

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