Other modern power-pop bands could learn a hell of a lot from Nada Surf.
For a band with the impressive staying power of Nada Surf, an album called Never Not Together seems almost too fitting. They’ve been a band for 30 years with largely the same lineup since the mid-90s (save for the addition of Guided By Voices guitarist Doug Gillard to their touring lineup about a decade ago), and over the course of eight albums (including If I Had a Hi-Fi, their shockingly good 2010 covers record) they have nailed down some radical chemistry together which translates into, more frequently than not, dynamite power pop that is never revolutionary, but is always infectious as hell.
Like all of Nada Surf’s music, Never Not Together exudes the kind of effortlessness that only comes from reaching total artistic comfort with those around you. Opener “So Much Love” is solid enough that it feels like a song they’ve been playing for years; frontperson Matthew Caws’ voice practically glides through the song, his sweet lyrics somehow dodging the trap of being too saccharine: “So much love in the air/ So much love, it’s always there/ How much love trapped inside?/ So much love, show it some light.” The songwriting isn’t revolutionary, but it’s delivered too passionately for that to matter.
Throughout the album, Caw seems focused on finding peace within living in a static state. At times he seems comfortable with it – the album’s title itself is an acknowledgement of that consistency – while songs like “Crowded Star” reflect on how much it can feel like a trap: “I was ready for a change before you came/ I was lookin’ for a way to not stay the same,” he sings with a small tinge of pain. Two songs before, he even seems defeated over the whole thing, noting the safety in remaining static but acknowledging how that may just be the default – “Where little changes during a lifetime/ Maybe the cobbler tries a new heel on a boot, crops are rotated/ But nothing changes how people are,” he opines in the spoken section of the song.
Perhaps his disillusionment with the nature of change is due to the fact that the band’s sound hasn’t changed very much in their 30 years of existence. They’ve sharpened and tightened, but ultimately power-pop can be a fairly conservative sound to work with. Luckily, though, Nada Surf kick ass at making power pop songs, and these songs all soar as a result of it. Their decade spent playing with Doug Gillard has elevated their hookiness gently, which is never a bad thing. This is what makes songs like the impressively-built “Mathilda” and the dreamy “Just Wait” stick with you damn near immediately. Honestly, every song here is tight enough that they all stick with you pretty quickly – by the halfway point of the album, it feels like a magic trick.
The one-two punch of “Something I Should Do” and “Looking For You” feels a cut above the rest, though, and it’s one of the best two-song stretches in the band’s career – the former a careening track with a rambling monologue running through it that toes the line between “stream of consciousness” and “actually coherent,” with stellar lines like “And you can’t be too open, but the hippies sure had a point/ Empathy is good, lack of empathy is bad/ And now the lines of non-facts waiting to get in the conversation are longer and longer” and “Self-critique is loaded for me anyway/ Because I’ve done plenty of that” tucked away in the noise. The latter kicks off with a children’s choir, before beginning a slow-burning ascent, with Caw searching for “that higher vibration” that will make the world align, before arriving at the towering, singalong-ready chorus of “What you’re looking for’s looking for you, too.”
Other modern power-pop bands could learn a hell of a lot from Nada Surf, and from Never Not Together. The record is 40+ minutes long but it travels at such a breezy pace that you can easily miss the runtime, as well as the fact that it’s just nine songs total. Each of them feels essential to the whole album, the members each latching onto the same kind of power they tapped into with their last truly killer release – 2008’s Lucky. With Never Not Together, they recapture their slot as one of the best unsung indie rock bands around. Even better, it’ll leave you hungry for what they’re going to do next – which isn’t a bad outcome for a band at the point where they could hang up their hats without much of a fuss. Bless whatever “holy math” Caw sings about on “Something I Should Do” that ensures that they’re never not together.