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Nada Surf: Let Go

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Nada Surf

Album: Let Go
Label: Barsuk

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One of the saddest side effects of a music business driven by instant gratification is that for talented young musicians, a first impression can also be the last. Music-industry executives are given multiple opportunities to fail–the commercial disappearance of an enormous percentage of acts is a given–but failure often permanently brands and burdens the artists themselves, which is especially unfortunate when a group is young and inexperienced going in. Nada Surf's story is particularly sad and familiar, driven by two potentially career-killing pitfalls: the novelty hit ("Popular") that defined its debut album, and the label indifference that doomed the disc's long-shelved follow-up. It didn't help that The Proximity Effect, the record Nada Surf ultimately bought back from Elektra and self-released, was merely so-so compared to the group's livelier Ric Ocasek-produced debut, 1996's High/Low. But anyone dismissing Nada Surf's members as has-beens or pretenders ought to be taken aback by the seemingly effortless proficiency and low-key excellence of Let Go, which follows the most effective under-the-radar reinvention since Spoon transformed itself from an okay alt-rock also-ran to a revered critics' darling. Virtually every song on Let Go hits its mark in one way or another, dispensing consistently remarkable moments that range from the sweet minor-key swoon of "Blizzard Of '77" and "Neither Heaven Nor Space" to the sleek, bouncy new wave of "Hi-Speed Soul." Examining relationships, fruit-fly swarms, and Cheap Trick lyrics with equally keen understanding, all while dispensing a disarming array of subtly endearing hooks, Nada Surf completes the evolution into a smart pop marvel before most listeners knew it had begun.