if i had a hi-fi
Don’t lie to me – I know you listened to Nada Surf in the 90’s. And you loved them. You played “Popular” so many times even your mother had to sit you down and tell you to seriously, knock it off. Or at least alternate it with the similar sounds of Weezer. Then when Death Cab for Cutie’s Chris Walla produced their next semi-widely played album in 2002, you probably revisited them for kicks (until you realized that yeah, that album sounded like it was produced by someone who plays in a band with Ben Gibbard).
Well, two years after their last release – 2008’s Lucky, which got as much play as you think it did – the band has come out with their sixth studio album. Allow me to introduce Nada Surf’s latest album, a collection of covers ranging from Spoon to Kate Bush, by saying that its title incorporates two of my favorite things: a lack of capital letters, and a palindrome. Look! if i had a hi-fi. Isn’t it cool?
Yes, yes it is. The album itself is pretty cool as well. It is Nada Surf at their alternative rock pop-y best, upbeat and somehow cohesive despite the wide range in song choices. Each cover is very obviously homage to the people and melodies that impacted the members of Nada Surf, lovingly and thoughtfully crafted to reflect both the original and the band’s own particular sound. By doing so, it doesn’t seem so weird that Depeche Mode’s gloomy synthpop “Enjoy the Silence” and The Soft Pack’s garage rock “Bright Side” share the same track listing.
But why a cover album, and why now? That's a question that the band has apparently not decided to address, at least not yet. It's a risky move if done incorrectly - people will likely speculate that the band has run out of material, or decided to take the easy route to make a few bucks. Nada Surf doesn't seem to lean towards either of these motives, though, which is interesting in itself. This cover album feels more like the band is rediscovering its sound by examining the sounds of others that they find appealing. In my opinion, they have succeeded in doing exactly that. This sounds like Nada Surf to me, the Nada Surf that broke out in the nineties and refused to step off the stage in the years that followed. Want to know why I think I'm right? This is also the first record that the band has produced completely independently. No DCFC guitarists, no Ric Ocasek. Just three guys in their forties looking to make the music they love, and I think that's great.
if i had a hi-fi, with Matthew Caws’s smooth vocals and the familiar, not necessarily ground-breaking but still enjoyable, alternative nineties rock sound, will most likely be gracing my summer rotation more frequently than I ever expected a Nada Surf album to. Sitting by the kiddie pool in my tiny backyard, I will be able to listen to Kate Bush and Spoon re-imagined by a band from my youth without even getting up to mess with iTunes. Life – and this album – is good. Really, surprisingly good.
- Emily Simpson