You can’t judge a book by its cover, but you can tell a lot about Nada Surf’s third album, Let Go on Barsuk Records, just by glancing at the jacket. Besides the album name itself, which indicates that the Brooklyn trio – singer/guitarist Mathew Caws, bassist Daniel Lorca and drummer Ira Elliot — is growing up, the cover artwork, with child-like multicolored circles blending into a melancholy blue, perfectly captures the mood. The album, much more introspective than Nada Surf’s previous material, has an innocent charm that proves that maturing does not mean losing touch with your childhood.
Case in point, "Happy Kid," an upbeat pop number that wears its I’m-a-loser heart on its sleeve, is on the surface reminiscent of mope-popper Ben Kweller. Listen up and you’ll realize that while Kweller seems stuck on his high-school experiences, Nada Surf injects the naïve allure of pre-pubescent youth into timeworn wisdom. Caws sings: "I’m just a happy kid/ Stuck with the heart of a sad punk," with such an earnest demeanor that you’re not quite sure if he’s proud or ashamed. This ability to be simultaneously upbeat and downtrodden adds complexity to an album that would have otherwise been just average.
Understatement works for Nada Surf as well, especially on "Blond on Blond," a beautiful track that could, as the lyrics say, be a lullaby for children and adults alike. Lines such as "Cats and dogs are coming down/ 14th street is gonna drown," mixing the rough and tumble world with a childish wonderment makes even the most jaded listener think back to their glory days as a elementary school kid. "Fruit Fly" turns touching when, amongst the quietly incessant drone of a guitar, Caws earnestly sings: "I’m sorry you’ve got nowhere to go," talking more about himself than the fruit fly.
Nada Surf occasionally bares more heart than necessary. I’m sure the band would like to portray "Inside of Love" as a touchingly revealing love tune, but unlike on other tracks, taking a hackneyed theme of love gets Caws and crew no sympathy from me. Think the song played during the closing credits of some melodramatic show, i.e. Dawson’s Creek, as the show’s charmingly handsome protagonist ponders the meaning of his high school years as his true love plays Monopoly next door with his comedy relief sidekick.
Besides "Inside of Love," it seems as if Nada Surf’s "Popular" days are long gone and forgotten, as they should be. It’s been 10 years since the band decided to call itself Nada Surf instead of Because Because Because, 15 years since they first got together in New York City — high time to leave high school behind. But since maturing and letting go of its past, Nada Surf has realized that getting older doesn’t mean getting old. What’s the harm of the occasional childish lyric, the random bee-like buzz in the background, or kiddy cover art if it serves as a minor distraction to maturing?