Nada Surf – The Weight is a Gift

Nada Surf
The Weight is a Gift

The Weight is a Gift, last September’s release from Nada Surf, succeeds masterfully at marrying pop and rock. The band has had a decade or more to work on this kind of thing, and it shows.

As with many such albums, the singing and the lyrics take center stage, edging out the the music in terms of where the songs focus your attention. Which is fine in this case, because Matthew Caws can really write a catchy line and carry a tune. And unlike lots of power-pop albums, though, The Weight is a Gift doesn’t include a sappy, cornball ballad. That said, the lyrics occasionally do land in the cornfield (“Go out shopping / Can’t see the store,” for instance, doesn’t seem worthy of the band’s other messages).

The two most radio-friendly tunes, “Concrete Bed” and “Always Love,” rival the output of critic-fave contemporaries Spoon and Death Cab in terms of warm melodicism and hookiness. “Concrete Bed” seems to be a rant against old habits, easy excuses, and apathy, observing that “It’s just another wish you wished / In a very long list.” The song “Always Love” advises us to “Always love / even when you want to fight” and, against excuses, “To make a mountain of / Your life is just a choice.” This is a pop album after all, not a treatise on philosophy, and maybe that’s why messages as simple and handy as “love – don’t hate” and “just do it” work fine on this disc.

Every so often the words do veer into the serious and the playful, though. An example of the latter would be from “In the Mirror,” where Caws sings “I look in the mirror / To see what my hair is doing / Is it kind of Skywalker / Or is it kind of stupid?” Hearing these words, I couldn’t help but think of the Smog song “I am Star Wars,” whose sole lyrics are “I am Star Wars today / I am no longer English grey.” Star Wars: the best measure of both your look and your mood. On the more serious side, many of these songs tell tales of waking up to adulthood, with all of its vagaries and disappointments.

As far as the music, it consists mainly of guitar chords (the vocals bring almost all of the melodies) backed by an energetic rhythm section. You weren’t expecting flashy drum fills or Claypool basslines, were you, because for the most part you don’t even really notice the drums and bass. That is to say, they play their roles really well for an album like this; if you did notice them, it would be a distraction from where your attention is meant to be. And score some more points in Nada Surf’s favor because of the production work by Chris Walla, whose work with Death Cab and the Decemberists alone has solidified his reputation for this kind of sound: in this case, clean, rich, and warm.

As a whole, The Weight is a Gift wins because the band knows how to write a catchy song and make it both sad and exuberant at the same time, with an unerring pop sensibility. In my own collection, I’ll be filing this just after Lilys and The Three O’Clock, next to Rogue Wave, and a little ahead of Spoon.