Artist: Nada Surf
Album: Let Go
Release Date: Oct. 15, 2002
Label: Barsuk

In mid 2002, Nada Surf was known mostly as a one-hit wonder from 1997 or so. Their song "Popular" had received some minor MTV airplay, and was a short-lived latch-on to the introduction of geek rock. Then Let Go came out. It received short reviews in Rolling Stone and other magazines, who tentatively gave it a good review. This was enough to get me to try it out.

I ripped the CD, and put it in a mix list with a bunch of other indie rock. I could usually pick out who did most songs on the list when they came up. But, some songs defied categorization. They seemed like they were just straight-up guitar pop, and didn't seem to have any personality on their own. After further investigation, it was revealed that all these songs were from the new Nada Surf album. Clearly this warranted further investigation.

Finally, I put the whole album together in order, and listened to it straight through. I know that I broke a cardinal rule by not listening to the album alone the first time, but I finally figured it out. This was a complete album, not just a collection of singles. Each song demonstrates different facets of this incredible album, and while separate they are impressive, together they are infinitely moreso.

  1. Blizzard of '77 - 2:09 - A slow, short, soft starter. Thick acoustic guitars, and the loverly vocals of Caws and Lorca are like hearing a church choir sing at a campfire sing-along.
  2. Happy Kid - 4:10 - As the song starts, you think, "OK, here's the guitar pop... right, this is good... wait, this is awesome!" It just gets better, the lyrics leading you down a path to the bridge, where the beat gets interrupted, and then has a little hazy section where it builds again from a subtle bass crescendo. Chorus, finish. And think about the happy kid who knows that life isn't going to get any better.
  3. Inside of Love - 4:58 - This song has been played on MTV sometimes, like in the background of The Real World when somebody gets dumped. It is very much an "I just got dumped and an in a self-destructive mood" song. Like the first verse says,
    Watching terrible TV that destroys all thought
    Getting spacier than an astronaut
    Making out with people I hardly know a lot
    I can't believe what I do late at night
    That basically sums it up. It has the easy tempo and non-threatening guitar to make you think that at least they understand.
  4. Fruit Fly - 4:34 - This is arguably my favorite song on the album, and one of the few where the lyrics tell the mood of the whole song. The metaphor of a fruit fly with no fruit for a lover with no one to love is presented beautifully: softly humming guitars, with a steady bass line, and then pounding with the "Left, Straight, Right, Straight," instantly transports you to the point of view of the jilted lover.
    What can you do, but go on?
    Oh no you make your own mistakes
    I cannot bring them back to you.
  5. Blonde on Blonde - 4:34 - Some might consider it sacrilege to name a song after One of the Greatest Albums of All Time, but it makes sense here. Another slow one that starts off with a lazy guitar riff, and slowly builds to a strumming tempo, that brings you in to the rainy NYC landscape. You can feel yourself sitting inside a cheap apartment looking out on the gray streets, and feel yourself lifted by the small blessings you have.
    I've got Blonde on Blonde, on my portable stereo
    It's a lullaby, from a giant golden radio
  6. Hi-Speed Soul - 4:39 - Almost Foo Fighters-esque, this track is lovely, high-energy guitar pop. The fuzz-guitar kicks in immediately, and the drums start pushing it into a dance-party beat soon after. And unlike other songs on it, the beat doesn't drop, it just keeps going through the chorus and bridge (with trance-like breakdown and build-up from drums, to drums + bass, to all again, and then just the killer intro riff) and then it ends like any good rock song should with a clean cut, none of this pussy fade-out stuff.
  7. Killian's Red - 6:13 - The guitar and bass dance together for a while before the sole voice starts the story of the smoky bar, where you're waiting for your friend to show up. It perfectly conveys the feeling of being left to drink alone. The spiraling bass and guitar work to create a haze that blocks out everything but the beer in front of you and the door that says Killian's Red.
  8. The Way You Wear Your Head - 3:18 - Another awesome guitar-pop song. The song kind of has the same feeling as Ben Folds's "Kate", conveying pleasure of being in love with a person who is oblivious to you. Also, they capitalize on Cheap Trick with the line
    I want to want you, I need to need you
    I'd love to love you
    I want to want you, I need to need you
    I'm begging to beg you
    Oddly enough, this song always reminds me of the love story in Wet Hot American Summer.
  9. Neither Heaven Nor Space - 4:40 - Another softy, it just rolls along about the absolute bliss of living. A great make-out song, all the instruments are very soft, and the singer's voice is so non-threatening, it's just like being at a high school dance.
  10. Là Pour Ça
  11. - 3:18 - Sung entirely in French by the bassist, with just guitar and drums. This is a soft, lazy song about something (I don't speak French, and lyrics are hard to come by). When my friend Tony first heard them play it, he said, "This would be a great song to have sex too. No, to make love to. I want to make love to this song." That about sums it up, it's just too bad that it's not even three and a half minutes long. Enjoy the deliciousness of this song, like a ripe mango for your ears.
  12. Treading Water - 4:23 - Sounds like it's going to be another medium tempo strummer, but wait... Yeah! It's rocking awesome guitars again! This song has kind of a manic feel to it, how it jumps from the pounding chorus to the calm chorus:
    Treading water, treading white wine
    Seeing borders, seeing straight lines
    I get these feelings that I don't have much time
    always rushing always late...
    and then back into the pounding again! This song goes back and forth about three or four times, each time more dramatic than the last. This song has one of the few instrumental bridges, with a rocking metal-quality guitar solo that is cut tragically short before dropping into another slow part. A roller-coaster ride of a song, but like a coaster, you just want to ride it again and again.
  13. Paper Boats - 6:39 - The final song, like any final song on an epic album, should be like a cooldown to a workout. A bit longer, easier tempo, and easier subject matter. This song could put a man to sleep, were it not for the dramatic chord changes for the chorus. It really makes the last song pop in a way that most groups forget is possible. Truly the crowning jewel on a masterful album.

In conclusion, this album creates a subtle collage of emotions and images that we haven't been privy to since The Moon and Antarctica. Nada Surf really started fresh with this album. If it weren't their third album, it would have been hailed as a genius debut. As it is, they have a novel of an album that remains on many shelves as a masterpiece.

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