A listener gets the distinct feeling that Mathew Cawes, frontman of the New York-based trio Nada Surf, has no capacity for cynicism. Nada Surf’s previous album, Let Go, featured songs about love, butterflies and Bob Dylan. Critically lauded for its pensive and whimsical lyrics and deemed a gem of pop simplicity, the band began to dispel any haunting memories of their one-hit single, “Popular” (circa 1996 MTV).
What makes their latest effort, The Weight is a Gift, both a nice pop album and a quickly tiresome listen is precisely what gave Nada Surf notoriety with Let Go. Yes, there’s something charming about Cawes’s personality; think a 30-year-old dork (not a virgin) who still opens his eyes wide at nature and life and spends his Saturdays rewatching “Star Wars.” He’s not a contemptible nerd, but he’s a reminder of positive thought in an utterly negative world.
Take “Blankest Year.” Cawes exalts, “Oh fuck it / I’m gonna have a party,” and you can hear him revolting against his parents. On the album’s title track, as well as on “Your Legs Grow,” he sings in gleeful resistance to the inevitable pains that accompany adulthood.
Death Cab For Cutie guitarist Chris Walla appears as a guest producer on The Weight Is a Gift; he’s a great influence on the album’s sound. Most of its songs are three-minute-long pieces featuring cheery, predictable rock melodies that don’t bring any new sounds to the table. With the exception of some mild country twang on “Comes a Time” and a dissonant background to “Imaginary Friends,” this album doesn’t breach the comfort zone of four-chord rock standards.
Pretty vocal harmonies and hum-worthy choruses make this a listenable and fun album. But unlike Let Go, which had the beautiful “Blonde on Blonde,” no song really stands out.. For a group of introspective nerds – one without the pretensions of Rivers Cuomo – look no further than Nada Surf.
Rating: 2-1/2 stars out of 5