Beautiful, clarified power pop.
Sometimes, there truly is beauty in simplicity. Such is the case with Nada Surf’s eighth studio album, the aptly named You Know Who You Are. At this moment in their career — namely, 24 years in with a crew of bandmates that was last altered in 1995 — Nada Surf knows their identity, their tone and their strengths. Thankfully, You Know Who You Are evidences that, rather than sounding over-rehearsed and played out, the New York City power pop group’s songs bespeak confidence and maturity.
Nada Surf’s instrumentation has long reflected clear-eyed placidity. The trend continues on You Know Who You Are, a 10 song record that makes use of little more than guitars, bass, drums and Matthew Caws’ slightly twangy vocals. Distortion, when present, is minimal; The brass that adorns “Out Of The Dark” is refreshing, but not overpowering. Against understated arrangements, Caws’ lyrics speak directly to the listener. One of Nada Surf’s most impressive characteristics is their ability to perfectly place every syllable of every lyric.
Accordingly, the meanings of Nada Surf’s lyrics come to the forefront. The opening track — “Cold To See Clear” — reads as a reflection on the fame that followed Nada Surf’s 1996 hit, “Popular,” as Caws sings, “The radio took me/The radio, radio made me.” On the album’s third track — the brooding, atmospheric “Friend Hospital” — Caws explores more probing and poetic territory, singing, “Moods cloudy mountains, ideas like towers.” Towards the record’s close, “Animal” finds Caws expounding more bizarre lyrics that break from the band’s typically detached ethos. “I used to get high and dance all around the house,” Caws admits to open the track, continuing, “Cleaning, rearranging/Why, I’d let it all out.” Focused, delicate tracks that allow Caws’ mellow vocals to shine dominate You Know Who You Are. The release does not chart new ground in power pop, but it undoubtedly a carefully constructed, highly enjoyable album.