A sixth LP proper that’s perhaps better titled Bands Are Indifferent to Change.
Martin Aston 2012
The Guardian’s recent claim that indie rock is suffering a slow and painful death (underlined by Official Charts Company figures showing that pop albums just outsold rock albums for the first time in seven years) at least makes a change from the Rock Is Dead debate that reappears with comet-style regularity. But when you’re not Radiohead (and at a pinch, the retro-themed Horrors), there’s enough evidence that few guitar bands have reinvention on the agenda. A case in point: New York trio Nada Surf’s sixth album (not including 2010’s covers project If I Had A Hi-Fi). It’s been four years since Lucky, which as usual sat somewhere between R.E.M. and Hüsker Dü, without the distinct charisma of either but as capable of euphoric uplift with hearts hanging out on sleeves. But it might as well be four minutes for all the change The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy heralds. Perhaps the album should be named Bands Are Indifferent to Change.
In other words, here are more guitar songs that chime, soar and swing, with singer/guitarist Matthew Caws sounding as naïve and blessed as a teenager – one track is even called Teenage Dreams, like he’s still connected to the original source of what inspired him to pick up a guitar. Behind him, rhythm section Daniel Lorcas and Ira Elliott resemble a finely meshed springboard. From the second Clear Eye Clouded Mind hits the ground, with one of Caw’s best formula hooks – dreamy verse, bristling chorus – it’s like the feel-good hit of the winter. Waiting for Something shows Caws can carve hooks with both voice and guitar, with harmonies springing from a Beatles/Byrds fount. Cellos add another layer of bliss to When I Was Young’s swooning tempo changes, with a guitar coda that emulates hard rock’s lighters-aloft model.
Yet as Caws sings "I always feel like I’m waiting for something," one wonders if that something is a sign of change, or growth (it may be a small embellishment, but even the Bacharach-ian horns/strings interlude on Let the Fight Do the Fighting – Caws loves his oblique platitudes – feels like a step on). Which is ironic given the album’s core theme is the passage of time, and how we are to face the future: to be youthful, or responsible? Can adults change as we grow older? Does change matter when the component parts of this record prove that indie rock may be ‘dying’ commercially but still sounds alive and kicking? After all, we’re not talking the moribund state of affairs that another Viva Brother record might bring. Like stars are indifferent to astronomy, guitar bands are indifferent to sales figures, and so it should remain.