Issue #120: Let Go by Nada Surf
July 2, 2018
Released On September 17, 2002
Released By Barsuk Records
Introduction written in conjunction with Doug Nunnally.
Let Go isn’t just a great record to me, it’s an important record to me.
Before I get into it though, I have to say that talking about Let Go in this fashion, the underrated part throws me a little bit. I’m not totally sure what that means. Was it rated fairly or not? I don’t know. Some albums are not for everyone. Some albums… are just for me. In terms of commercial success, this album was not a blockbuster by any stretch, but for the people who loved it, it’s cultish. And for me, it soundtracked a very pivotal part of my life.
I first got the record in late 2002. My ex-husband, Michael Eisenstein, came home from a tour with a record by Nada Surf. I remember hearing their hit “Popular” when it had come out years ago and while I didn’t dislike it, I didn’t become a fan of Nada Surf. That changed when I heard this album. Coming back from overseas, Michael brought back the European version of this album, which is slightly different than the American version of this album, something I’m not even sure I was aware of. At the time, I was home with a three year old girl, Zoe Mabel, and pregnant with our second child Henry so I was fuckin’ tired and the whole period of time was a blur.
But it was the perfect time for me to hear it. Let Go entered my life at a very specific moment where I was ready to hear it, ready to have something hit me. I’m not saying I could have heard anything during that time and it would have meant something to me though. This album and where I was in my life just collided at the exact right time, so exact that I felt as though every word of it was chosen for me. Every guitar, every chord, every effect, every amp, every snare hit. Everything was for me and it meant so much to me. And it still does. In preparation of discussing this record, I went back and listened to the record in my car and when “No Quick Fix” came on, I just started bawling listening to it. The love affairs we have with music is crazy, and I’m always amazed by how it can create these sense memories that can affect you like that.
Henry was born in December of 2002 and it must have been the following summer that I really fell in love with the record. It got heavy rotation inside our house. We just listened to it constantly, me more so than Michael. If I love an album, I’ll listen to it on loop for weeks end. Why not? Zoe Mabel would ask to play something else and my reaction would always be, “Why play something else when this is so good?”
Falling in love with the record was a different listening experience for me too, one I’m not sure I’ve had since. I was a new parent. I was in my own bubble. Before, I had always gotten into albums and experienced them with my friends. We would pass something new and cool around to all of us before making tapes of it. Not with this one. It was all mine. And maybe that’s a reason it has such a lasting impact on me. It was just a period of my life where I was in it as a new mom with two little kids, and this album kept me company through it all.
The music touched me and spoke to me in such a profound way that was so moving. I didn’t even have to know what the songs were about. I don’t speak French, but “Là Pour Ça” is still a moving song to me. The melody is just haunting and while I’ll never know what it means, I know for sure what it means. “No Quick Fix” is the same way. If I knew what it was really about, I wouldn’t have started crying when I recently heard it. As you do with songs, you attach your own meaning to what it is. That’s why I’ve always been hesitant to tell people what my own songs are about when they ask me. I think it just ruins everything.
Funnily enough, I think the least moving song is “Inside Of Love,” which is the most obvious song going for heartstrings, while I think a song like “Fruit Fly” really hammers home the meaning of the record, even though it’s this crazy weird opus ostensibly about a fuckin’ fruit fly buzzing around your trash bin in the summer. Again, the love affairs we have with music…
One thing that always stood out to me about Let Go is it has the greatest opening lyric to any song of all time. “I’m just a happy kid / Stuck with the heart of a sad punk / Drowning in my id.” It kicks-off “Happy Kid” and I still, to this day, think it’s the greatest opening line of all time. Period. It’s so self-aware, so much that it couldn’t have been written in the moment, instead from someone who’s come out the other end. It’s so wistful that it almost feels like an out-of-body experience. Some of the songs, like “Blizzard Of ’77” and “Blonde On Blonde,” are very obviously reconstructed history, autobiographical songs through the lens of a decade past. The storytelling is disembodied in that way and it lets Matthew Caws explore these memories in a way that really resonates to me.
It’s a record full of memorable lyrics, ones I could talk about for hours. Some are more life affirming like that line from “Happy Kid,” while others, like “I can’t stay home at night / I’m drawn out like moth to lamplight” from “No Quick Fix,” spoke to specific issues I had like my massive fear of missing out. Remember AOL Instant Messenger? I think if we could resurrect my away messages from all those years ago, 9 out of 10 of them would be lyrics from this record. (The 10th would probably be something by The Smiths).
The lyrics also impacted me as a songwriter too. Not in a “I wish I could have written this” way though. No, the only time I ever had that thought was when I first heard the chorus to “Umbrella” by Rihanna. (“Fuck, I wish I’d wrote that!”) Listening to the words of Let Go was more instructive than anything. Like paying really close attention to a professor you admire who helps you see things differently. I’ve always tried to tell stories in a detached way. I just have this tendency to hide what I’m trying to say behind metaphors because I’ve always been a little fearful of saying what I want since I don’t want to be vulnerable in that way. Also, I’ve always thought they’re not anyone’s fucking business but mine so I can just dress them up in subterfuge and metaphors until no one knows what I’m saying. I think once this album got into my DNA though, I’ve tried to be a little bit more honest with my storytelling. Trying to get more in touch with my memories and trying to not to be so secretive with what I’m trying to say.
This past March, I was in my hometown Boston for a wedding and the band happened to be playing that night on a stop of their Let Go 15th Anniversary Tour. It was amazing. People, myself including, were just screaming along to every single word of every single song. I was standing next to a guy I’d never seen or met before and we just connected over the music. When “Blizzard Of ’77” began, I shrieked… and I think he did too. I’d never had that kind of experience before, where I was singing along to every word along with every other person there, and connecting with a total stranger. It was weird and just amazing. I definitely got a whole new spin listening to them live too. I just heard them in a way I’d never heard them before. They didn’t make up any new arrangements or anything annoying like that. I’ve just always viewed this record as a journey and hearing them unfold in a song, banter, song, banter format really made me appreciate these songs as three and a half minute pop nuggets, but pop nuggets that could still move me to tears.
I did keep tabs on Nada Surf’s music going forward, and remember liking their follow-up to Let Go, 2005’s The Weight Is A Gift, even though it didn’t have the same dynamic impact on me. But then again, what could?
Kay Hanley (@kayhanley)
Rousing & Dynamic Rock Melodizer
Wobbly alt-rock idols becoming robust power pop dignitaries.
For a long, long time now, it’s bugged me that a lot of people think of Nada Surf as a one-hit wonder, and only know their song “Popular.” For one, it’s not a very representative song in their catalog. For another, their other stuff is way better. While I probably ride hardest for Let Go‘s follow-up, The Weight Is A Gift, I definitely love this album as much as pretty much all of the Nada Surf albums (yes, including High-Low, the one with “Popular” — it’s like the worst song on there. And I like it!) That said, the version of Let Go brought to us by OYR this week is a bit of a revelation; after all, I never even knew there was an alternate European track listing, let alone one that features three songs not on the American release. This is a significantly different listening experience than I remember — one that draws listeners in both more subtly and more deeply. Of course, this is a pretty deeply contemplative album anyway; even the more upbeat tunes like “Hi-Speed Soul” and “Fruit Fly” (both of which land pretty squarely in the mold of classic top-quality Nada Surf jams) are more midtempo than upbeat, more focused on killer minor-chord choruses that touch your heart than getting you up and dancing. In that vein, “No Quick Fix,” the first of the three Euro-only tracks, is excellent. No reason in this world why this should have been left off — honestly, it’s better than half of what made the American version of Let Go. Bonus tracks “Run” and “End Credits” are both memorably catchy assets to the album as well. This 15 track Euro version of Let Go is probably, on the whole, 10% better than the American version of the album. And the American version of Let Go is still an excellent record, one that you should really discover right now, especially if you still think “Oh, that ‘Popular’ band” when you hear the name Nada Surf. There’s a lot you’re missing out on; this is a great place to start discovering it.
Drew Necci (@buzzorhowl)
Insightful Scholar Of The Underground
Narrative writing is the easiest, I tell my students, because you’re the expert on you. Choosing topics for that kind of writing, though, consistently presents a problem when I hand out my “no-no” list. “You cannot write about the following: graduation, death of a grandparent, getting married, having a baby, finding out you were pregnant, a car crash, a cool vacation, or deciding to come back to school,” I say over the mounting fears of my class. They’re always so sure that these are their big moments, the shiny points on the stars of their lives, but whenever someone launches into a story about one of these things “the listener is just waiting for you to shut up so they can tell you their story about that thing,” I explain to deaf ears and dismayed brows. With a perspective like that on storytelling, it’s no wonder that my first listen of the indie-pop album Let Go ever left me feeling overly protective of my feelings about it. Classic ’90s/’00s indie rock themes run through this album, that particular kind of despairing pleasure displayed in a showcase of warbly guitar, anticipated beats, and tempered frenzy. With a voice sweeter than should be allowed to sing lyrics about bodies as ships passing in the night, the song “Paper Boats,” one of my favorites, plays a perfect 3 AM, a lulling afternoon swinging in a hammock on a porch, a tearstained night alone mourning a relationship that barely happened. The album hosts a range of pace in the tracks, with no dominant tone aside from that nostalgic and fun kind of singing and crying, laughing in the rain that ruined your wedding kind of feeling. Indulgent, I fell into this record from the first moment, the tiniest bit wary to play it for anyone in my personal orbit, reluctant to hear any comparisons to other artists or albums of the time while this album stands up so well on its own.
Laura Burroughs (@_thetwors)
Jestful Musical Erudite
It’s amazing how much the tide of mainstream trends shifting even just a bit, can change the long term trajectory of a band for notably better or worse. This phenomenon is even more shocking if you weren’t paying witness first hand to said shifts when they were happening in real time. I say this because Off Your Radar only highlights one album per week so the context of a band’s efforts on either side of the past or future against what the newsletter is highlighting, takes a backseat, along with any emotional baggage that comes with the before and after. Knowing this, choosing to dive into Nada Surf’s 2003 record, Let Go, before exploring the band’s backstories and complicated history, was the right choice. The way this New York group balanced singable melodies with acoustic sensitivity and electric intensity is right on the mark for what the flexibility of alternative rock and power pop could be in the late ’90s and early 2000s and, for what clicked with ears across the genres back then. If people wanted to dance and have an energetic party, the amplification and energy was there. If the mood called for more lyrical clarity and a softer, more narrative focused single, there was no shame in stripping things down. Thus, it came as no surprise to find that Nada Surf drew stylistic vibes and inspiration from bands like Weezer, Feeder, Dishwalla, and Death Cab For Cutie. What was surprising was realizing Nada Surf only hit this sound in a way that appealed to its fan base, two albums in. But that’s the danger of timing and trends, right? Indeed, listening to Let Go feels like taking an instant trip back to the early ‘aughts (that will never look right to me). Sure, alternative rock’s foundations are easy enough to find and assemble in a studio. However, the production style markers of the time period are what do it. The polish on guitars is there (“Blizzard Of ’77“), the cavernous but defined drum hits are there (“Hi-Speed Soul“), and the harmonizing choruses are there (“Blonde On Blonde“). However, so are effects like reverse tonal phasing (“Fruit Fly“), and dry vocals that keep themselves apart from all the instrumental effects and coloring — creating a simultaneous blend of sonic frankness and creativity that captures what makes this era of alt. rock special. (The line “And I’m just a happy kid, stuck with the heart of old punk” from “Happy Kid” is fitting in echoing how this record maintains just a touch of imperfection with approachable and upbeat tunes.) Of course, even with these hallmark characteristics, it’s nice to see that Let Go has melodic and emotional range as well. The more somber and minor key oriented “Killian’s Red” speaks to this mood well, without coming across like an emotionally super hard left, as the song eventually shifts to major chord progressions as the track goes on. In fact, knowing that song revolves around a tenuous relationship (“I’m putting this night down to bed / ’cause I was sitting at the bar / Hoping you’d walk in the door / That says Killian’s Red”), the tonal back and forth of major and minor makes it feel like the soundtrack to its own mini, drama tinged, romance movie. (Whether or not the song and lyrics resolve up or down, you’ll just have to listen for yourselves!) Let Go is a record that encapsulates all the best of early 2000s alternative. It’s clean but not inhumanely perfect. It’s calm but also can be lively. It’s radio catchy but emotionally detailed and lyrically poetic. There’s enough of a sonic collage here that if this album were the only one available to listen to on a longer drive you wouldn’t have to worry about drifting too far, or for too long, in the direction of any one energy level or emotional corner. Nada Surf have you covered in a completely diverse but cohesive way. And now I want to dig out my Feeder, Dishwalla, Death Cab For Cutie, and Weezer.
Kira Grunenberg (@shadowmelody1)
Prolific Sonic Scribe & Unifier
If there were some sort of “Where Are They Now?” television show for one-hit-wonders from the ’80s and ’90s, we would find Nada Surf mysteriously absent. That’s because they never really threw in the towel. Their song “Popular,” which appeared on their debut LP and exploited that ’90s slow-verse and fast-and-noisy hook dynamic, was their only multi-market hit. It played off the same angst-ridden patterns as Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Radiohead’s “Creep,” and Brand New’s “Sic Transit Gloria” among others. Dropped by their label when the follow-up record didn’t result in any hits with the same level of appeal, Nada Surf faded into relative obscurity. It wasn’t until 2002s Let Go that critics began to recognize that Nada Surf had larger ambitions than just being the flavour of the month. There was more depth to the band than the strength of that one simple hit might have suggested. “Inside Of Love” and “Happy Kid” show a more acoustic, rich in flavour side of the band. There’s a lot to love here and it’s regrettable that so many people may be prone to pass them over in the record bin based solely on the thought that they couldn’t do anything which could measure up to 1996’s High/Low. But there are no easy wins on Let Go either — they grew up considerably in terms of both production quality and finding their voice. Indeed if they had released Let Go as their debut record, it might have achieved the same level of success as their debut. In a rare circumstance, “Popular” may have actually made them less popular. It was a great song, and few seemed ready to hear what came next. But they’ve survived and still tour to this day. Their fans are growing and most of them would trace some of the band’s best work back to this album. It’s a sincere and heart-felt, jangly collection of alt-rock ballads which by itself should be enough to disassociate them with their one hit wonder and reintroduce them as something worth paying attention to. Sadly, that never really happened. But it’s never too late.
Darryl Wright (@punksteez)
Lovechild Of The Music & Technology Marriage
Depicting the band’s hopeful message over the frustrations of everyday life.
It almost feels like tradition at this point but Nada Surf, like many previous bands we’ve dissected at OYR, are an act that I’ve been passively aware of, but I’ve never really dived deep into their discography despite considering it several times. The difference between Nada Surf and these other bands, however, is that I already had a specific starting point, and it just so happened to be Let Go. It’s 100% because of Standing At The Gates, the self-released tribute album that came out earlier this year; though to narrow things down even more, it was Charly Bliss covering “The Way You Wear Your Head” that brought it to my attention at all. But, as these things go, I didn’t fully absorb the music the way that I had wanted to and Let Go fell, as it were, off my radar. Until now, and am I glad that I got to give this album my full attention this time. (Before I continue, I want to throw in an anecdote unrelated to Nada Surf: one of my favorite live show moments of 2017 was seeing Charly Bliss cover “Three Small Words” from the Josie And The Pussycats soundtrack, and it became a running daydream that one day I’ll be backstage at their show, and Eva will wink at me the same way that Kay Hanley [hey, things have come full circle!] winked at Ben Wyatt in the season six finale of Parks And Recreation and I’ll make the same dumb face he makes. Anyway…). I want mention that I listened to Let Go twice before I wrote down a single word. I had been made aware early on that there was a European edition exclusive track, so I had initially planned on putting that song on a playlist at the end of the US version and calling it a day. But when I saw that the European edition didn’t just swap a single song for another, and had a different tracklist, I was interested in comparing the two. Sequencing can have a huge effect on the listening experience — do you think Nevermind would be the same if “Lithium” or “Come As You Are” were the first track? Or if “Let’s Go Crazy” opened up Side B and was followed up by “Purple Rain?” A collection of great songs will be a collection of great songs no matter what, but when I see that an album has several release versions, I’m curious to know how the album differs from version to version. And as someone who wasn’t well versed with Let Go to begin with, why not listen to both? As it turns out, I don’t believe that Let Go is vastly affected based on which version you listen to, but I also believe that Nada Surf would have certainly made the cut on my non-existent coming-of-age soundtrack. But what’s more is that, however likely they would have summed up my formative years, they also strongly resonate with me right now. The first lyric of “Happy Kid” (“I’m just a happy kid stuck with the heart of a sad punk”) hit home harder than anything off the latest Beach Slang album, and even though “Inside Of Love” might be an obvious pick as the album stand-out, but at the same time, the idea of no longer wanting to be an observer to a loving relationship but to be a participant, sticks out. As far as variations go, “Happy Kid” and “The Way You Wear Your Head” switching places still keeps an energetic tune to follow up “Blizzard Of ’77” and moving “Inside of Love” slightly closer to the album’s center doesn’t change the pacing as much as I thought it might. That said, I do prefer “No Quick Fix” over “Neither Heaven Nor Space,” so perhaps I slightly favor the European edition.
Dustin Gates (@cmoncheermeup)
Relapsed Pop Culture Junkie
Nada Surf’s Let Go is an album of simple pleasures, the band embodying a kind of timeless, warm sound that invites you to fall in love with their songs. (Although I loathe lazy comparisons, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Alvvays when listening, if that helps conjure up any sounds for you regarding guitar tones and melodies especially.) From my cursory research surrounding the initial release, “Inside Of Love” seemed to be one of the bigger singles from the album, and it’s a great starting point for the record, built around an echoing acoustic guitar ostinato and a pitch-perfect chorus with a nice little chromatic surprise in the chord progression. As I listened to the rest of the album, I found myself wanting to wrap myself up in all the guitar sounds Nada Surf has to offer. They’re positively flush with care and love, clearly recorded impeccably. Whether it’s more straight-forward rhythmic electric strumming as on “No Quick Fix” or “Happy Kid” or the tender acoustic finger-picking of “Fruit Fly” or “Là Pour Ça,” the guitars are the musical heart and soul of Let Go.
David Munro (@david_c_munro))
Idiosyncratic Avant-Garde Wanderer
As with Mischief Brew’s Songs From Under The Sink, there was a lotta nostalgia while listening to Nada Surf’s Let Go. Perhaps best depicted as a tidal wave, the nostalgia was so powerful that upon seeing the band’s name, my initial reaction was, “Wait, the guys who did the Buffy theme?” Nope, not them. That’s Nerf Herder. Though in my defense, they’re in more-or-less the same time frame in terms of (ahem) popularity. In a related story, in what can only be called kismet, Daria in its entirety was added to Hulu this week. So yeah, it’s been an absurd late ‘90s/’00s binge this week. And it would appear that Nada Surf traffic, at least marginally, in it too. References, including the obvious (Bob Dylan) and the subtle (Cheap Trick), are fun hidden gems throughout the album. (In fact, given NS’s sound, the latter is likely a major influence on their sound.) And I noticed a striking detail in their songwriting that applies here, as well: This relationship (of sorts) to the past can be found in the record’s longer songs. Toward the ends of, say, “Killian’s Red” or “Paper Boats,” the band repeats a motif and spirals it outward — outwardly recursive, perhaps? — and by the end it becomes hypnotic like a chant. In this way, the album’s title can erroneously scan as ironic or sarcastic. Exploring the lyrics, however, it appears the titular phrase more refers to what’s holding you back — and if that is the past, it certainly isn’t the nostalgic sense of the word. To me, it’s more like the record says, “Let go of all that baggage and just have some fun.” I’m down with that.
Steve Lampiris (@stevenlampiris)
Sure, Let’s Go With That
This album is really deep. It plays like a therapy session and the track list reads like a therapy session. The title reads like a therapeutic solution. We always wonder what was going on in the lives of the artists at the time they recorded the music. I think it’s pretty clear that when Nada Surf decided to put together Let Go, they were in a period of great reflection and soul searching. As I hear it, this record screams out with themes of depression and self-doubt — all too relatable for most of us in our mid-thirties. There’s “Treading Water,” as if the title wasn’t relatable enough, offering refrains of “always rising, always late.” That’s me. I also really related to “Paper Boats,” which is an excellent ballad for anyone trying to figure out their purpose and/or higher calling: “all I am is a body floating downwind.” These intense images are a testament to the powerful songwriting throughout the record. Musically speaking, my favorite track has to be “Hi-Speed Soul.” This song has it all: it’s a dynamic go-kart ride with many changes, stops and starts. The electric keys at the end are the perfect way to solidify the soul. I admit, I did not latch on to Nada Surf in their breakout years as I was much more into MTV Jams as opposed to a Matt Pinfield special. But once again, I am so glad that OYR brought this record into my orbit.
Kellen “J. Clyde” Ford (@jclyde757)
Steadfast Hip-Hop Historian & Creator
I’m not sure saying “Where have you been all my life?” is appropriate here, given that the popularity of “Popular” makes it borderline impossible for this 1990s child to claim zero knowledge of Nada Surf. But I hadn’t tracked their other output, and it’s definitely been my loss — not just because I’m enjoying Let Go (I am), but because the feelings it evokes are closely connected to what was happening in my life when it came out. “Inside Of Love” is the song that stands out most in that respect. It pretty much opened up an emotional wormhole when I listened this week. There are certain times in life when you know you want something, but in addition to not having the answers as to how to get it, you don’t even know which questions to ask. You’re that far away. I can remember that being the case with the idea of getting married and starting a family — being in middle school and thinking… “Like… how does that happen?” The answer, as painful as it would have been to hear at that stage, is that you fill in the chasm between where you are and where you want to be with an unfathomable number of experiences — related and unrelated: hours, days, conversations, fights, false starts, good meals, bad meals, frustrations, joys… and eventually life just happens. Then you’re on the inside. “Inside Of Love” spells out that scenario so beautifully, and in Matthew Caws’ voice, I hear so many of the qualities I love about Jay Clifford’s singing in Jump, Little Children. (Off Your Radar Issue #29, y’all. It’s a jam.) That vocal connection is present throughout, but the other track that brings it to the front of my mind is “Blonde On Blonde.” Something about the way these guys can sing from a wounded perspective with such poise. I wish I’d been following along sooner. Fully on board now.
Davy Jones (@youhearthat)
Idealistic Seeker Of Neoteric Sounds
Impressive musicianship aside, the force of its lyrical depth makes Let Go a record for every music fan.
Diving into some Spotify info on Nada Surf, I’m somewhat astonished at my own consistency. There are 20 bands listed on the “Fans Also Like” page and, aside from a few mild flirtations, I really don’t truck with any of them. What’s wrong with me? Do I hate smart power pop, which is the closest genre I can think to apply to Nada Surf? No — I love Big Star and The Replacements, to name two antecedents to the their sound. Maybe it has something to do with their name, which I always felt was an inside joke I didn’t want to make the effort to understand. On the other hand, when was the last time I even listened to the band? They just were not a part of my ’90s, which mostly consisted of Björk, Nirvana, Tricky, Portishead, and Public Enemy. Hell, until today, I wouldn’t even know “Popular,” their biggest hit, if it accosted me on the subway. But if I’m consistent I’m also dutiful, which means I’ve been listening to Let Go all week. And the verdict? I file most of it under good, heartfelt guitar music, with none of the annoying issues I have with their brethren Weezer and Pavement, et cetera. But there are a few songs that break out of that pleasant realm and give me a window into what it would be to truly love this band, as our guest recommender Kay Hanley obviously does. The first is “Hi-Speed Soul,” which verily leapt out of my headphones on my afternoon commute the other day, and had me tapping my fingers and grooving in my seat a little. It begins with some aggressive guitar, hardened to a fine sheen by what sounds like a different producer than the rest of the album, and then the drums crash in, riding the top of the beat with high energy. A sweet two-chord groove emerges, then a soaring chorus, and after some repetitions of this pattern they go into a quiet bridge, which develops into a dance-floor stomp for bass and drums. There’s a nifty electric piano solo and then a slam-bang finish. When the song ended, I was like “Who were those guys?” Gimme more. “Hi-Speed Soul” is followed up by “Killian’s Red,” which starts with a minute-long introduction of the most gorgeously moody music here, with shimmering guitar, taut bass and drums that sound like grim determination personified. Nice one-two, boys. “Paper Boats,” which ends both the American and slightly rejiggered European version of the album, demonstrates their sequencing skills, bringing Let Go in for a soft, sad, reflective ending, with some twilight sparkle to boot. Am I ever going to be a raging Nada Surf fan? Not likely, but they have earned my respect and I can understand why they might have devoted followers.
Jeremy Shatan (@anearful)
Prescient & Appreciative Musical Omnivore
This was an excellent album. Albums of this caliber that I am completely unaware of drive me bonkers because I know that if I had known about Let Go when it was newly released, I would have listened to it obsessively. It has the perfect blend of eloquent and detailed lyrics, and great loud guitars, but also softer, more introspective songs to balance the mood. The line from “Happy Kid” “I’m just a happy kid / Stuck with the heart of a sad punk” resonated with me to an almost embarrassing level. Every song had at least one like where I thought both “I’ve never thought of it that way before” and also “I know exactly what he means” which I feel is the sign of a truly talented lyricist. I don’t know why I never listened to this album before, but I look forward to many hours of making up for lost time!
James Anderson (@unabashedjames)
Devoted Docent Of Musical Concepts
This was my first time purposely listening to Nada Surf. I say that as it seems quite a few of their songs have been used in popular TV shows, films, and commercials worldwide and despite having never having listened to them consciously, I immediately felt a warm familiarity to this album. No, don’t scoff, this isn’t a nice way of saying the music is generic — my sentiments are genuine (for once). The lyrics of Let Go seem to cover all the bases of those microcosmic moments in daily life that just seem to have a way of rattling on in the back of your head, sometimes way longer than they probably should. An essential album for any of you out there that think that good albums can make better therapists than those so-called “trained professionals.” The music on this album perfectly cushions and compliments lead singer Matthew Caws’ gentle and somewhat troubled crooning. It’s this impeccable harmony between the interworking parts of Nada Surf that makes for the perfect post coming-of-age/pre-mid-life-crisis indie or rock album. If you’re like me, you go so far out of your way to buy albums (yes, that’s right I still buy music and no, I don’t want a Spotify subscription) that can satisfy a plethora of emotions and Let Go is definitely one of those albums. You can cry to Let Go, you can endure all the hells of public transport to Let Go, you can even save poor house party turnouts by transforming them into effortlessly cool “intimate gatherings” with Let Go — the applications are endless! For those of still you wondering why I prioritize multipurpose albums, it’s because they help me safe space on my terrible iPhone 5… I’m starting to wonder if admitting that made me somewhat less credible.. Oh, well. Let me get back to the point here before you stop reading — cathartic, sentimental, simple, and somewhat bitter-sweet, Let Go of the stress of your daily grind with Nada Surf.
Erin Calvert (@erinpcalvert)
Elder Goth In The Making
Many of you reading this will probably have a one-song reference point for Nada Surf. Most likely, it will be “Popular,” the song that made them household names to youthful alt-rock fans of the ’90s. Or maybe you’re like me and associate them more with the power-pop irreverence of “Blankest Year.” (Hearing “Popular” came way later for me, thankfully). Either way, your reference point is completely useless here as Let Go charts an introspective path, divergent to both songs previously mentioned. Sure, it all sounds like the band, but I highly doubt people getting into “Popular” at its release would be just as inclined to champion a song like “Là Pour Ça.” (Or maybe they would, I shouldn’t pigeonhole genre fans.) Pensive, emotive, and intimate, Let Go is a record full of musical tonics, aimed at curing whatever mental ailment you might be struggling with that week. Depending on your struggle or history of struggles, certain songs might pop out to you. To me, the slightly dissonant memory of “Blizzard Of ’77” was particularly affecting, especially as the song loops the line “I miss you more than I knew” at the end. I don’t even know what I’m missing, but the fact that you could be unaware of being less than whole is a thought that resonates deep inside me. Of course, any rabid music fan will find solace in the anthemic lyrics of “Happy Kid,” and as straight-forward and formulaic as the title track is, it’s hard to resist its earnest charm, one that anchors the whole record in a feeling of yearning recovery. Of course, the record soars beyond its lyrical importance, with plenty of moments to relish in Matthew Caws’ palpitating vocals, ones that seem restless even on ballads, and awe in the band’s ability to shift from serene groove to fuzzed out rock, but it’s that lyrical importance that makes it a deliberate record that will definitely make you take stock of things a bit differently.
Doug Nunnally (@musicdoug)
Garrulous Aural Braggart
Progress by Rx Bandits
Chosen By James Anderson