Shiny, Happy Earfuls
This week: Trey Anastasio stands alone, Deerhoof progresses nicely, and Nada Surf rises from the ashes
Shiny, Happy Earfuls
Produced by Brendan O’Brien (Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Pearl Jam), Shine finds Anastasio grinning and in a newfound position of creative freedom that leans toward melodic pop-rock while providing a relaxed blueprint for aerobatic improv reserved for the stage.
In the album’s upbeat title track, Anastasio belts, “And the light shines on/ Well, we all ride on/ When the day’s come and gone, you know we all ride on,” serving as the disc’s shiny, happy mantra. Highlights include the hard-driving, straightforward “Tuesday” and Led Zeppelin-esque “Come as Melody,” whose nimble crescendo forces Anastasio to step outside of his reedy vocal comfort zone and hit the high notes.
Shine ’s pair of power ballads, “Wherever You Find It” and “Sleep Again,” read like an open letter to Phish fans—with more acknowledgement than apology. And, in “Invisible,” Anastasio sings without veiling, “I tried to tell you all we had was a wrapped-up scene like I knew that it would, it all seems thin but it sure feels good.”
Largely, the album is a hook-laden, guitar-heavy effort that bobs with buoyancy and serves as a nice transitional offering into Anastasio’s solo flight. Here’s hoping he continues to soar.
Fast-forward to 2003 and the band’s spectacular album Let Go , which featured a blend of pop, melancholy and lyricism to die for. Suddenly, Nada Surf was an indie-rock phoenix rising from the ashes of a dead career.
Its latest effort, Weight Is A Gift, continues this amazing turn of events. Weight picks up right where Let Go left off, which is to say a perfect pop veneer covers an enormous mountain of sorrow. Making sad sound happy is no simple feat in popular music. Nada Surf has a special gift for this as evidenced in standout tracks like “Concrete Bed,” “Do It Again” and especially “Blankest Year.” Never has utter depression been described with such a jovial sing-along chorus (featuring prodigious use of the f-word to boot). Catchy hooks, pretty harmonies and frontman Matthew Caws’ pain are what Nada Surf is all about.
Weight does have a few blemishes. Lyrically, it’s not quite as strong as Let Go due to a few pretentious moments like “Always Love” and its “always love/hate will get you every time” theme. Also, when Nada Surf slows things down, it tends to take a bit of the album’s power away. These minor glitches aside, it’s nearly impossible not to sing along to each song on this record. Nada Surf has grown into one of the finest bands around, and Weight Is A Gift should find its way into many a Top 10 list in 2005.
This time around, the band pares the noise and chaos to a minimum and actually manages to make it through eight songs before it tears apart one of the album’s most danceable numbers, “You Can See,” with thickly distorted riffage and math-y guitar lines.
While the album is by far the most accessible of its body of work, all Deerhoof’s trademarks are still present. Lead singer Satomi still sounds like an adorable little girl, the guitars are as sharp and biting as ever, and drummer Greg Saunier still launches into fits of uncontrolled bashing on his kit. It’s all just more focused this time.
The Runners Four is Deerhoof’s first album since 2002’s Reveille that offers a tight cohesion between the songs, making it a great album as a whole and not just a bunch of good songs—one annoying quality weighing down some of its previous albums. In addition to making songs that play well together, the band also makes them more diverse. Instead of just Satomi singing, the entire band offers vocals. They even break out the acoustic guitars. With Runners , Deerhoof takes its sound to the next level, pleasing longtime fans and probably bringing in some new ones as well.