It’s been nearly 20 years since Nada Surf’s wonderful alt-rock one-hit-by-design “Popular,” a song that perfectly embodied/parodied the underdog ambivalence of the post-Nirvana era. They’ve been making excellent music ever since, years and years after so many other alt-rock one-hits don’t even exist as trivia questions. The run of albums they made during the 2000s — 2003’s Let Go, 2005’s The Weight Is a Gift, and 2009’s Lucky — is especially worth returning to, full of sweet songs about grappling with the muted joys and weird perils of negotiating life as you transition from twentysomething to thirtysomething.
What sets Nada Surf apart is the unguarded quality of singer-guitarist Matthew Caws’ songwriting, which dwells on love, friendship, and the desire for connection with a warmth and honesty that go perfectly with his melodies, steeped in the careful prettiness of the Go-Betweens and the no-frills formal consistency of Spoon. He’s a little like a Rivers Cuomo without an ironic bone in his body, or a Chris Martin who can play half a dozen Only Ones songs from memory. Just check out “So Much Love,” from their forthcoming LP Never Not Together, a driving, elegant song about being constantly blown away by the way the passing beauty of everyday life can help free up a heavy mind. “I’ll fight to stay open,” Caws sings with striking conviction over sturdily ascending guitar churn and bright piano, the kind of sun-through-clouds loveliness that’s been picking up indie rockers’ spirits for ages.
Find a playlist of all of our recent Songs You Need to Know selections on Spotify.