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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Nada Surf

Lucky (Barsuk)

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In 1996, Nada Surf got lucky with “Popular,” although the song was practically designed to relegate the band to one-hit-wonder status. By the end of the ‘90s, they seemed bound for oblivion, but it turned out that they were just regrouping. 2003’s Let Go was a quietly stunning comeback, and 2005’s The Weight Is a Gift proved to be a welcome sequel.

The group’s latest effort, Lucky, turns the hat trick, although it’s less a trick than a skill. Nada Surf continues to fill its second act with songs that are rarely too clever for their own good and that are never afraid to reach for genuine emotion.

Sometimes the reach is roundabout because Nada Surf’s roots lie gnarled and deep within the obliqueness of indie-rock: Matthew Caws sings with almost no pop artifice, and like any other literate but realistic romantic, he tends to wear his heart up his sleeve rather than on it. Yet the band’s melodies—the rolling grind of “Weightless,” the strummed folk shuffle of “Here Goes Something”—give his feelings away, albeit in minor-key revelations.

When the songs (co-written with bassist Daniel Lorca and drummer Ira Elliot) make their meanings as prettily plain as the way in which Caws sings, it’s as though a large shaft of sunlight illuminates clarity through the clouds of his thinking.

“See These Bones” builds increasing intricacy over reverberating musing about death; “Are You Lightning?” picks its way through the charged air of romantic foolishness; and “Beautiful Beat” drops every guard and seeks a final, lovingly foursquare refuge in music.

Whereas Nada Surf had not been capable of putting together such lasting shelter a decade ago, they now do so with daunting regularity and a maturity that has nothing to do with age. That’s the good fortune they hold onto with Lucky.