From high to low

Most who have heard of Nada Surf, if they have heard of them at all, know them from their 1996 MTV chart-topper "Popular". Interspersed with samples from a 1950's dating-advice publication, and featuring a catchy chorus mocking the typical high school mentality - "I'm head of the class, I'm popular/I'm quarterback, I'm popular . . . I'm never last picked, I've got a cheerleading chick" - it proved to be a sort of albatross for the band, who found themselves tagged with the one-hit wonder label and with a recording company demanding a followup that was equally radio-friendly (A "massive chorus", preferably "about high school or sex" was their request). The accompanying album, High/Low was a mostly optimistic, summer-tinged record that sold 200,000 copies in the US.

Faraway, So Close

Their next album, 1999's The Proximity Effect, was even better than their debut, featuring their much-loved 80 Windows - "I feel far away from you/So what else is new?/The moon is closer to the sun, than I am to anyone"- but was not deemed worthy of American release by Elektra, who only released it in Europe and demanded over $75,000 for the rights to the album. Nada surf were dropped by Elektra, and only in 2000 convinced Elektra to release the album (it only sold 6,000 copies, due partially to an almost complete lack of promotion) Meanwhile, the band started work on a third album - paying for the recording session out of their own pocket, and keeping themselves afloat by the now-diminishing royalties from "Popular", and touring to audiences of sometimes less than 100.

When speaking to the American Nada Surf fans I know, it seems The Proximity Effect is one of the those "Napster albums" - a little like Weezer's hiatus, the relative silence from the Nada Surf camp over the last years of the 1990's served to strenghten their small-but-devout fanbase. Though rock radio was now dominated by nu-metal and its offshoots, those still longing for Beach Boys-influenced, so-called geek rock (a hopelessly inadequate description) identified with songs like 80 Windows, Bacardi, and Bad Best Friend. However, the relative unavailability of The Proximity Effect meant the fans who had downloaded the album probably outnumbered those who had bought it.

Letting Go

Nada Surf kicked off the millenium with a new American record label - Barsuk Records, home of bands such as Death Cab for Cutie and The Long Winters - new deals with several European record labels, and an album that far surpassed any of their work so far - Let Go. Released in September, 2002 by Heavenly Records in England, the record garnered very positive reviews in the press and earned respectable sales throughout Europe - the band's recent tour of Europe found them playing alongside fellow Heavenly artist Ed Harcourt and bands such as Starsailor.

In early 2003 (February 4th to be exact) the record was released in the USA by Barsuk Records, alongside Nada Surf's first American tour in almost two years. Though the success of "Popular" will probably go unmatched, Nada Surf can pride themselves on playing the kind of bittersweet-yet-summer-ey (from "I almost love this town when I'm by your side" to "I'm just a happy kid") pop/rock that Weezer used to be so good at. A 4/5 star review from Rolling Stone - "the band's best by a mile" - and an article in the New York Times - "The album subtly incorporates elements from 70's power pop and 80's new wave, without relying on self-conscious shtick or coming off sounding like an exercise in nostalgia" - will hopefully boost sales Stateside. Note that the running order for the European and American releases is quite different (the European one being much better, but I digress).

Newcomers to the band would be well-advised to check Let Go - it shows Nada Surf maturing without "getting old" - and then seeking out their two older records. Those who heard "Popular" and think that's what this band is all about should also take a listen to their newer material- they may be pleasantly surprised.

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