Sung from the viewpoint of crumbling remains ("what you are now, we were once"), the opening song on Nada Surf's "Lucky" might not seem to express good fortune. But "See These Bones," like the other tunes on the Brooklyn indie-rock trio's gently beguiling fifth album, is not about win-the-lottery kind of luck. Singer-songwriter Matthew Caws and his cohorts celebrate simpler blessings, as befits this set's low-key musical style.
Although several songs accelerate, most of the material is mid-tempo, with vocal melodies that float over the instruments. A few numbers, notably "Are You Lightning?," even laze toward old-time country. Assisted by almost a dozen guest musicians, the band crafts a lushly layered sound, but the sonic sweetness doesn't reflect complacency. When "Beautiful Beat" extols the power of music, it's to "lift me up from distress," and the album's liveliest track, "From Now On," counsels that "you'll have to invent what you lack." In other words, "Lucky" means making your own luck.
Formed by two former members of the punky Noise Ratchet, Delta Spirit ventures into country, folk, gospel and other traditional music. On "Ode to Sunshine," the San Diego quintet's debut, electric guitar is sometimes upstaged by barrelhouse piano and mandolin, and such rowdy numbers as "People C'mon" invite a back-porch singalong. The results are lively, if seldom distinctive. Perhaps the band will grow into its countrified style, but this album's most convincing songs are the ones, including "Parade" and "Streetwalker," that endow the Spirit's old-fashioned music with a contemporary drive.
Originally a studio-based duo that featured Holly Miranda's breathy vocals, the Jealous Girlfriends have grown into a quintet that gives equal weight to Josh Abbott's singing and songwriting. On its self-titled second album, the Brooklyn band shows an almost-disconcerting range. "The Pink Wig to My Salieri" reveals the Girlfriends' way with electro-tinged pop and obscure song titles, and "How Now" beefs up the guitars. Yet both have dreamy melodies, which are these songs' common currency. Although the group's music pulls in various directions, Miranda and Abbott's tunes dovetail nicely.
--Mark Jenkins, Weekend (Dec. 5, 2008)
Aaron Leitko reviewed an April 2008 Nada Surf performance for The Washington Post:
Nada Surf performed at 9:30 club before a sold-out crowd Saturday night and no, the band did not play "Popular." In the 12 years that have gone by since the band saw flash-in-the-pan stardom, the Brooklyn trio seems to have put considerable distance between itself and that insidiously catchy single.
Nada Surf continues to trade in hooky guitar rock. Many of its new songs could still be comfortably sandwiched between Weezer and Superdrag on an episode of MTV's "Alternative Nation" circa 1996. But more than a decade as a band has polished up the group's songwriting, and it certainly isn't lacking in catchy tunes. Singer-songwriter Matthew Caws's compositions are now steeped in melancholic charm. Doe-eyed audience members sang along to every word of power-pop gems like "What Is Your Secret" and "I Like What You Say" -- the latter drawn from the band's most recent album, "Lucky" -- and bobbed along to rockers like "Happy Kid."
Nada Surf may have jettisoned much of its 1990's songbook, but the trio only nurtured the showmanship skills developed in its rock-star days. Bass player Daniel Lorca literally smokes onstage (often while he's singing) and figuratively smokes onstage -- copping arena poses that haven't been seen for a decade. He also didn't look like he'd had a haircut since Nada Surf had a charting single. Meanwhile, drummer Ira Elliot played fills with a pair of luminescent drumsticks as Caws urged the audience to sing and sway along to the music. It enthusiastically obliged. Nada Surf may not be interested in playing "Popular" anymore, but it's not washed up.