By Mark Guarino
After 12 years of making albums, Matthew Caws had one goal in mind when starting his newest: “not to blow it.”
Not likely. Lucky (Barsuk), the latest from Brooklyn pop trio Nada Surf, follows the band’s second coming that should never have happened. The band’s journey from noisy punks to one-hit wonders to major label rejects would have led the band to the dustbin populated by the Marcy Playgrounds of the world. Instead, a shift of gears led to the band’s most enduring phase, where the emotive weight of Let Go and This Weight Is a Gift brought them a legion of new fans, moved by what Caws calls “really gloriously sweet melodies that get under your skin.”
Lucky digs deeper. Songs like “Whose Authority” and “See These Bones” are bright and bold, ringing with lush harmonies, with cameo vocals from Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard and John Roderick of the Long Winters among others. “I Like What You Say” and “Are You Lightning?” celebrate unbridled romance while “Weightless,” written with Caws’ three-year-old son in mind, are warm and meditative. With everything he sings, Caws brings urgency, a tender heart shouting from the rooftops accompanied by power chords.
“I don’t mean to sound like a sad sack but I mostly write after something is bothering me and after I start to feel better about it. It speeds the recovery,” he said.
Having now played with bassist and childhood friend Daniel Lorca for 25 years (drummer Ira Elliott joined later), Nada Surf’s live shows seem to be guided by “musical telepathy,” Caws said. Even without a new album to hype, a tour last fall became state-by-state sing-along sessions, with the majority of fans championing the song power. It reminded Caws of what he felt watching Fountains of Wayne, pre-“Stacy’s Mom.” “They were a slightly invisible band yet the place was packed,” he said. “It was because everyone was coming to get down with the melodies.”
Speaking of, the brightest on Lucky is “Beautiful Beat,” a song inspired by an afternoon project any vinyl geek would envy: Organizing the record collection by color.
“The brown section is very heavy with Joy Division … closely followed by colorful colors like Sgt. Pepper’s,” Caws reported.
It wasn’t until spinning the latter that a drumbeat (thanks, Ringo Starr), spilled out the speakers like a tonic and Caws saw his life flash with perspective. “I was not having the greatest day. I was so cheered up by that beat. To think about how any hours of your life is hearing boom boom, thrack. It’s like a heartbeat,” Caws said. “That’s where you find communion, that’s where you find solace. It’s in music.”