[ download ]
If you lived through the 1990s with one eye open to pop culture, chances are you are probably familiar with Nada Surf‘s 1996 hit “Popular,” a snarky, anthemic track about high school life which found an unlikely niche in heavy rotation on MTV thanks in part to a memorable video. The brilliance of the song is still plainly evident all of these years later: it is a sarcastic riposte to glossy teen mags and the day’s rising geek chic (itself a rejoinder to the smelly apathy of grunge). Of course, the landscape of video music channels was entirely different a decade and a half ago; Nada Surf were in the good company of equally unexpected television-launched artists like Superdrag, Weezer, and Fountains of Wayne. While Nada Surf’s power-pop inspired riffs may not have been groundbreaking, but they were undeniably catchy.
Unlike many of their contemporaries, however, Nada Surf’s output since their fifteen minutes of fame has been consistent and engaging, with excellent new full-lengths appearing every few years (much to the delight of a smaller, but more rabid fan base). Now, closing in on two decades of surviving as a rock band, the group is preparing the release of a covers album on June 8th entitled if i had a hi-fi. While the covers record can be a harbinger of doom for some acts, Nada Surf has taken great pains to select some more obscure tracks alongside the more predictable ones (Depeche Mode, The Go-Betweens).
One such example is the opening track, a cover of Bill Fox’s “Electrocution.” Fox was the lead vocalist and guitarist for ’80s power-pop trio The Mice, an under the radar yet highly influential group among their scene in Ohio. Nada Surf approaches the song with bright, jangly guitars and makes the original track’s hooks even more sweeping and grand, layering the background vocals on thick and sweet. It is a sound we’ve heard before, for sure–Teenage Fanclub and Matthew Sweet have made a living on the stuff even longer than Nada Surf has been together, to say nothing of their gaggle of followers–but it is almost guaranteed to please. There is something unshakable about a pop confection as sugary and pure as this. Even though not all of the band’s hits have been “hits,” there is no mistaking their ability to crank them out on command.