Nada Surf has had a truly bizarre career trajectory. If you told someone 20 years ago that the same band that had a slightly gimmicky radio hit with “Popular” would eventually become one of the most consistent indie rock bands around, they would probably think you were delusional. Yet here we are, eight albums deep, and Nada Surf (which now features officially features former Guided By Voices guitarist Doug Gillard) seem to be just hitting its stride. Aptly titled You Know Who You Are, the group’s new collection of songs sees the band once again merging upbeat rockers (“New Bird”) with shimmering ballads (“Believe You’re Mine”) to quietly craft an album that’s a case study in how to grow older gracefully.
Frontman Matthew Caws sounds like he should have a halo hovering above his head on the opener “Cold To See Clear,” a jangly falsetto-driven track that proves you don’t need elaborate arrangements to craft an infectious anthem. Ditto on dreamy, Byrdsian “Rushing,” which sees him so transfixed by a new love that he sings about forgetting not only his worries but his physical body itself. However it’s not all saccharine soliloquies on You Know Who You Are and there’s still a haunting quality to minor-sounding tracks like “Friend Hospital” that’s sometimes cast too dark of a shadow on their sunny disposition in the past, like a dark cloud obscuring a rainbow. Yet thanks to an overriding reach toward hopeful moments of self-reflection the album eschews the sad-sack self-loathing that’s often the default in both the genre as well as the band’s prior output. That’s why when Caws sings “there’s a reason to get out of bed” on the horn-laden “Out Of The Dark,” it feels like a small revelation.
If nothing else, You Know Who You Are illustrates that while Nada Surf would be the first group to admit it doesn’t have all the answers, it’s finally on the right track. The band—which is once again propelled by an understated yet gifted rhythm section here—has been around long enough to see countless trends, relationships, and moments of self-doubt wash over them. After weathering that seemingly endless storm for two decades, it finally seems as if the worst is over.