The Proximity Effect is the second album from alterna-pop band Nada Surf; it was released sometime in 1998, 1999, or 2000, depending on where you live. It was originally published by Elektra in Europe in 1998 and in Australia in 1999, but because there was no obvious single on the album, the label didn't release it in the United States; as a result, the band reclaimed rights to the album and released it on the smaller Mardev Records label in the United States on August 29, 2000. On the American release, the album totals fifty six minutes and fifty four seconds in length over fourteen tracks.
Most people probably know this band better for their one hit in the summer of 1996, Popular, from their debut album high/low. The song came off somewhere in between Weezer and King Missile, with some spoken verses and an emo mentality to it. When they failed to follow it up successfully with their second single, Psychic Caramel, most people wrote the band off as a one hit wonder and left it at that.
What most people didn't realize, though, is that Nada Surf is actually a pretty good band. high/low is a very solid album, drawing from me an immediate comparison to Weezer's debut album in terms of style and sound. Weezer managed to escape the "one hit wonder" moniker, though; Nada Surf did not.
I ordered this album as an import back in 1998 and thoroughly enjoyed it; it builds strongly upon the sound that the band built on their earlier album. This album comes off as a mix of Weezer's first two albums (I can't shy away from the analogy because the two groups have a somewhat similar sound in a similar genre), not entirely abandoning a pop sound for a Pinkerton-like introspective approach, but headed in that direction. The mix comes off sounding great, and I find myself saying that this is one of the truly underappreciated albums of the late 1990s.
Sometimes record labels confuse me. To my ears, the opener, Hyperspace (4:36), with its very interesting, almost bagpipe-esque opening guitar and heartbeat-like drums, screams out "single," making me wonder what exactly Elektra was complaining about when they said this album had no real singles.
The album continues strongly with Amateur (4:01), a solid, mellow song with a very nice chorus ("You said I should get professional help...") that along with Hyperspace opens the album very well. This song comes off much like Weezer's Buddy Holly did to me when I first heard it.
The third track sounds like a lost track from Pet Sounds, with the same "lost surf band" sound and the meandering, Brian Wilson-like vocals. 80 Windows (4:24) has nice verses, but the chorus somewhat drags the song down due to some very weak lyrics, much weaker than the rest of the album. This song is extremely mellow, coming off a lot like I Just Wasn't Made For These Times.
On the other hand, Mother's Day (3:46) sounds like Aerosmith from the late 1980s, that is, between their great rocking 1970s self and their less interesting pop-rock sound from the 1990s. In fact, the guitarwork in many parts reminds me greatly of Walk This Way. The repeated lines near the end of the song are definitely the high point, but this is a solid change of pace from a previously slow-paced album.
Troublemaker (4:21) is a return to the more mellow sound of 80 Windows, mostly about a person who breaks a lot of promises. When the pace picks up near the end, building to a nice finish, the lyrics wrap right around it, making a nice little pop gem.
Track number six, Bacardi (4:01), is a great number about someone getting drunk on Bacardi and watching The Late Show rather than being social, a feeling I can empathize with (in my case, it would be sitting at home with a cup of ginseng tea watching Dragonball Z, take that for what you will). The alternation between the driving rock sections and the extremely mellow vocal sections almost creates a psychedelic rock effect, making this a very good song on a very solid album.
Bad Best Friend (4:09) starts off with a guitar-led clapping session. Somehow, this entire song comes off as though it were performed at the local club by a popular local band. The continued rhythmic clapping throughout the song sets off this song about being in love with your best friend's girl, and makes it into something different and interesting.
Dispossession (2:53) opens with a guitar blast and some ultra-speedy surf-style guitar and drum work, breaking down into a song reminiscent of Foo Fighters in style. It's an interesting song about running away and leaving everything behind, with perhaps the best guitar work and instrumentation on the disc.
The ninth track, The Voices (3:28), returns to a more mellow sound and is probably the most reminiscent song on the album of their earlier hit, Popular. The voices spoken of here are the voices of a wide variety of people lost in the wind; the "you're not alone" perspective of the song is very nice.
Firecracker (3:47) is on the mellower edge of arena rock, coming off like My Hero by Foo Fighters to my ears. The very interesting guitar work again brings the song together; the familiarity of the sound, even through some distortion, makes me wonder if the riff is not borrowed from something I should know...
Slow Down (4:09) sounds like the only worthwhile song on Weezer's 2001 album, Islands in the Sun; in fact, it comes off like a slightly faster version of the song during the verses and a slightly slower one during the choruses. The repetitive electronic heartbeat-like sounds, quickening as the song goes on, cap things off.
On my European disc, the twelfth track, Robot (5:30) was the album's closer. Like the opener, this one screams "single," making me wonder what on earth their label was listening to. The percussion is extremely catchy here, almost forcing you to tap your toe along to the mid-tempo song. It closed the original off very well and makes me wonder why it didn't close the American release as well, since the remaining two songs...
Track thirteen, Silent Fighting (3:51), is badly recorded and comes off like a b-side recorded on a tour bus or something. The sound is way off of the rest of the album and it just disrupts the flow of what came before somehow.
The true closer is much better, but it feels detached after the out of place Silent Fighting. Spooky (3:49) is a very fun closer to the album, about how weird a relationship gets when it ends. I believe this was also a b-side in Europe, but this is much better than the preceding song.
Overall, the album is a very good collection of introspective pop songs with a variety of styles; it's unfortunate that Elektra didn't release this album in the United States because it really deserves some attention. Similar albums include Nada Surf's own high/low, Weezer's self-titled debut and Pinkerton, and Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys; all four are recommended and are similar in nature to this one.