Not every cloud of major-label mismanagement or outright incompetence has a silver lining.

Not every cloud of major-label mismanagement or outright incompetence has a silver lining. For every Wilco or Spoon that escapes the vacuum of big business to achieve the kind of success their former minders failed to secure, there are dozens of frustrated bands still stuck in limbo or since disbanded.

The promise of Nada Surf's debut "High/Low" led to the disappointment of "The Proximity" effect, which then led to the group leaving Elektra records. That could have been the end, but Nada Surf got the last laugh with 2002's excellent "Let Go," later re-released on the cozier Barsuk label, which earned the band the same peripheral good emo vibes that have buoyed Weezer and Death Cab For Cutie.

No doubt Nada Surf hope some more of that stuff will rub off on them for their second Barsuk release, produced by DCFC's Chris Walla (now currently embarked on his own major label experiment). Regardless, Matthew Caws is the kind of songwriter whose material seems destined to attract a larger audience of any bent. There's not a clunker on "The Weight is a Gift," even if the band never veers far from the indie comfort zone of vague melancholia.

"I'm sitting here waiting for birds to sing," sings Caws in "Do It Again" with a disappointment that belies the song's cathartic waves of guitar, while his admonition that "hate will get you every time" leads to a typically exultant explosion of jangle and distortion in "Always Love." "Blankest Year" ups the pep level -- "oh, f*ck it, I'm going to have a party," snaps Caws, his blurt echoed by sweet harmonies -- but by this halfway point the disc doesn't even need it. Caws has presented his case for making the familiar sound fresh again, and it's as convincing as it is consistently ingratiating.

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