Nada Surf – The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy

January 01, 1970



“It always feels like I’m waiting for
something,” coos singer Matthew Caws in the second track of Nada Surf’s seventh
album, The Stars Are Indifferent to
.  While the musician’s
restlessness and anticipation linger throughout the album, listeners eagerly
anticipating new material from Nada Surf are instantly satiated exactly one
track earlier, when the band kickstarts the record with the tangibly urgent
“Clear Eye Clouded Mind.”  Much of the
album continues in this vein; outside of “When I Was Young,” “Jules and Jim”
and “Let the Fight Do the Fighting,” The
Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy
is incessantly aggressive, demonstrating
that the 40-something rockers haven’t tamed a bit with age.  Instead, the band’s new music more closely
resembles that of their 1996 debut, High/Low,
than any of their more recent material.


The deft musicianship featured throughout the
album is particularly rewarding. Caws capably alternates between acoustic and
electric guitar; for example, when in “When I Was Young” he fingerpicks a
melody evocative of Kansas’ “Dust in the Wind” on his acoustic instrument
before giving way to the song’s soaring guitar solo on his electric axe.  Daniel Lorca’s bass playing, meanwhile, is
consistently vigorous.  When he is not
serving as the driving force behind the band, he exhibits a keen aptitude for melodicism on the beguiling “Let the
Fight Do the Fighting” and album-closer “The Future.”  Drummer Ira Elliot remains mostly in the
pocket, providing impeccable timing and flawless fills when necessary, sounding
particularly spirited on the album’s first two tracks, “Clear Eye Clouded Mind”
and “Waiting for Something.”  The rhythm
section shines brightest on the anthemic “The Moon Is Calling,” when Elliot’s
sophisticated syncopated drum beats and Lorca’s melodic bass fills complement
one another superbly.  However, some of
the record’s most appealing moments happen when the trio escapes the confines
of merely guitar, bass and drums in favor of arrangements that require
ancillary instruments, such as synthesizer in “Waiting for Something,” “The
Moon Is Calling” and “No Snow on the Mountain”; xylophone in “Jules and Jim”;
and trumpet in “Let the Fight Do the Fighting.”


Caws’ lyrics, delivered in his inimitable dulcet
voice (and often strengthened by harmonies), are similarly effective.  He is both rationally thoughtful and
irrationally sentimental.  “Sometimes I
ask the wrong questions, but I get the right answers / Moved to a tear by a
subway breakdancer,” he sings in “Teenage Dreams.”  The singular issue Caws is most sentimental
about is his fleeting youth, and a recurring lyrical theme throughout the album
involves lamenting certain qualities he possessed in his younger days.  He optimistically
sings, “It’s never too late for teenage dreams” in the aforementioned song –
lauding the idealism of his youth – and later encourages more uninhibited,
child-like behavior, beseeching listeners, and himself, to “start dancing” in
“Looking Through.”  In “When I Was
Young,” Caws struggles to even remember the imaginative dreams he once had as a
child, when he didn’t know if he was “better off asleep or up.”  He’s envious of that child’s imagination.  His preoccupation with the past and time also
extends to the anxiety-ridden “Waiting for Something” and the album’s final
track, “The Future,” a song about the uncertainty of what’s to come, in which
Caws confesses, “I cannot believe the future’s happening to me.”


The album’s title, The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy, is derived from an
expression by Peter Caws, Matthew’s father and a noted philosophy
professor.  “We name things,” he
explains. “Animals, vegetables, minerals, atoms, molecules, genes.  But the things we name don’t know their
names; dogs don’t know they are dogs, electrons don’t know they are electrons,
the moon doesn’t know it’s the moon.” 


In other words, objects exist outside of their
manmade constructs.  Identification and
classification are meaningless.  But the
facts remain the same, and to us, just as we’ve come to know a dog as a dog, a
good rock record is a good rock record, and The
Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy
is a good rock record.


DOWNLOAD:  “Waiting for Something,” “Jules and Jim,” “Let
the Fight Do the Fighting” WARREN MILLER

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