For fans of New York alternative rockers, Nada Surf, 2010 must have been something of a disappointing year. Whereas 2008 yielded Lucky, 2010 saw Nada Surf release If I Had A Hi-Fi, an album made up entirely of cover songs. Whilst there’s nothing wrong with covers, it’s often contentious for fans who come to expect an album of original material every couple of years to have to wait four. Still, Nada Surf have always been a band to take their time, and The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy sees Nada Surf continuing with what they do well, resulting in an enjoyable, if not terribly exciting, seventh album.
This is traditional alternative rock through-and-through, complete with memorable hooks and, at times, stadium-sized choruses. Songs shift in mood and lyrical complexity, but a listener can expect a lot of emotional delivery behind performances. Tracks such as “Waiting for Something” have calm breakdowns that choke you up in a sort of nostalgic way that reminds you of the 90s. For a band that have been roaming since the early 90s, Nada Surf still sound young; Astronomy is propelled by the youthful energy that many alternative bands lose in their later years. Almost as if to acknowledge their age, tracks have such tongue-in-cheek names as “When I Was Young” and “Teenage Dreams.” Clearly, the band have no intention of abandoning their youthful exterior here.
And really, it doesn’t seem necessary that they should as their style is instantly familiar and can be appreciated by anyone in the mood for something safe and easy to listen to. The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy is utterly inoffensive, insofar as its songs are moderately inspirational, somewhat predictable in their pacing and easy to sing along to. Pretty guitar solos are dotted about to bridge second and third verses, drums are rhythmically simple and fast in order to get the heart racing and vocals carry typical phrases like, “Is it true, is it done, is it over?” These phrases are repeated so extensively, however, that their meaning is lost and they come across as being somewhat vacuous, designed to fill the musical space without really asking anything of the listener.
This is really the biggest problem with Nada Surf’s latest offering. The songs here may be original compositions for 2012, but for the most part they sound musically similar and lack any noticeable factors to make them stand out. “Let the Fight Do the Fighting” throws a curve-ball into the mix with its latter-half horn segment, although its position within the song itself is expected. There’s more to being alternative than adding an unexpected instrument here and there; pace and song structure also need to be altered for a song to capture the attention of an impatient listener in 2012 who has access to the vast amount of independent music readily available today.
The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy will likely divide listeners here. Fans that have come to expect catchy songs from Nada Surf that are made and produced well will find a lot to like here; every instrument sounds crisp and clear, and with only ten tracks and a relatively short running time it’s the sort of album that can be stuck on repeat and listened to for hours without necessarily realising where the end-point is. However, for those listeners who want something a bit more challenging and unpredictable, Nada Surf fail to demonstrate enough here in order to separate themselves from the crowd. Astronomy sounds like a healthy stroll down 90s Alternative Alley, and is as comforting as it is overly familiar; giving it a listen won’t change your perspective on music, but it might make you pine for the good old days.