Published Feb 05, 2020Melodic, New York alt-rockers Nada Surf have been releasing thoughtful, well-crafted albums for almost 25 years now, keeping a low but steady profile since their turn-of-the-century heyday, ("Popular," their big mainstream hit, appeared on their 1996 debut), and 2020's Never Not Together continues this run of understated quality.
It opens a little prosaically with "So Much Love," a professional but by-the-numbers slice of joy rock that's decidedly not as good as "Always Love," from 2005's The Weight Is a Gift, to which it's clearly connected. Vocalist Matthew Caws' earnest, open-hearted lyrical style has long been a strong point —a welcome lodestar of wholesomeness and positivity over the years — but he can sometimes tip into the saccharine, and we are fully dunked here. There are (as always) moments of striking eloquence, however, and Caws certainly doesn't shy away from more complex subjects elsewhere on the album.
"Mathilda," for instance, a tender and thought-provoking examination of bullying and homophobia, masterfully goes from the particular to the general, ending with some beautifully wrought and fairly profound insights into the potentially timeless nature of masculine insecurity — it's some of his best writing. Elsewhere, on "Something I Should Do," he revisits the breathless spoken word delivery of "Popular," giving us a rousing and ultimately optimistic tour of the philosophies that have informed his writing over the years. These two tracks alone elevate Never Not Together above being just another solid Nada Surf album.
Sonically, there's not a whole lot new here (there seem to be more synths than usual, and some strings and a chamber choir show up on "Looking for You"), but it's doubtful that long-time fans are looking for a reinvention of the band's sound at this point, and there are certain guitar tones (the opening to "Something I Should Do" for instance), that sound so gloriously 1997 that you wouldn't want them to. A welcome late-career gem. (Barsuk)