“I cannot believe the future’s happening to me,” Nada Surf’s Matthew Caws sings on the closing track of The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy, and it’s a fair perspective. It’s been two decades since the band launched, and 16 years since its one-hit-wonder days as the purveyors of "Popular." The alternative era feels long gone: With hip-hop and electronic dance music established as dominant paradigms, both pop radio stations and the online underground have largely jettisoned the no-frills power-pop the band has spent its career whittling down to a fine point. Frankly, The Audience Is Indifferent To Guitar Rock might be a more honest title.
For this record’s sake, let’s hope that’s not the case. Since 2003’s comeback record Let Go, Nada Surf’s quietly built one of indie rock’s most consistent discographies. The Stars is a reliably crisp, tuneful addition, all racing snare hits, taut power chords, and Caws’ emotive tenor. The band’s advancing years haven’t slowed the trio down, though age is firmly on Caws’ mind: Beyond the set-ending “The Future,” the gnarled chords of “When I Was Young” feel like time running out, though his mood soon improves: “It’s never too late for teenage dreams,” Caws sings in the song of the same name.
New tricks, however, might be off the menu. There are occasional moments here that hint at less predictable avenues—a Cars-like synth solo, a horn appearing in a song’s bridge—but it’s a disappointment that the band’s inspiration doesn’t extend further beyond its well-honed chords-and-choruses comfort zone. Then again, given the nascent new decade’s guitar drought, Nada Surf shouldn’t be faulted too much for going back to the still-brimming well.