erasing clouds

Nada Surf, The Weight Is a Gift

reviewed by dave heaton

I saw Nada Surf play as an opening band back when they had a hit single on the radio. We're talking late '90s, when they were a young band on a major-label with a hit song, "Popular". At the time, I was struck by how this band, who was all over MTV and the radio, behaved like your indie-rock next-door neighbors: hanging out in the crowd, talking to people, and doing the DIY salesman thing, selling their records one-on-one, face-to-face to people they met. They came off as friendly and serious about their music then, and they still do...several lifetimes (and record label struggles) later.

The group's fourth album The Weight Is a Gift is as friendly and sincere as albums come, a completely likeable collection of melodic pop-rock songs, with lyrics that deliver self-analysis in a down-to-earth way, ocassionally touching and occasionally humorous. Musically, Nada Surf seem more comfortable and confident with each album, as if they're further refining their sound to make it more cohesive and in that way stronger. (As an aside, I'll confess that sometimes I like the less cohesive, rougher and slightly awkward albums the best, though, which is perhaps why the Nada Surf album I return to most often is their second album, the unfortunately delayed and unfairly maligned The Proximity Effect.)

The Weight Is a Gift has a crisp, clean sound that highlights the group's songs well, bringing out the sensitive, real-life nature of the lyrics and the subtle infectiousness of the melodies. The two lyrical moments of the album that feel most sincere to me, in a really affecting way, reflect two different sides of the band, giving a good sense to their twin appeal (thoughtfulness + good-natured fun). The first is "always love / hate will get you every time" - the chorus of "Always Love", an assertion of the importance of stay positive in the face of anger which succeeds by admitting human flaws, and avoiding painting an unnaturally rosy picture of life. The second is "oh fuck it / I'm going to have a party" - the genuinely giddy opening line to the catchy "Blankest Year".

Another notable emotional touchpoint is the rivetingly sad song "Comes a Time", which gets a feeling of extreme sadness across in the mere sound of the song, its slow crawl and the blue haze that hangs overhead. That song's uniqueness on the album is also an example of how Nada Surf have unified their sound without making all the songs sound the same. The Weight Is a Gift presents one cohesive sound - melodic, emotional pop/rock with a glow to it - but there's diversity within it. It's an easy-on-the-ears album that many people will likely find to be a comforting constant companion. When Death Cab for Cutie, Bright Eyes, the Shins, etc. can be popular without dumbing down their sound, perhaps it's the right time for Nada Surf to achieve popularity in a more natural way than before, based on their genuine musical strengths, which are abundantly clear on The Weight Is a Gift.


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