NADA SURF - Lucky

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" 4 1/2 stars. If Fountains of Wayne create snarky power pop songs for Friday evenings, then Nada Surf is the band for Sunday afternoons. They've grown more emotive over the years, having replaced the sarcasm of 1996's "Popular" with a grown-up focus on pop songcraft and mellow instrumentation. And they've been lucky, too -- lucky in that their audience has remained, their (once rocky) label situation has steadied, and their chops have improved. Appropriately enough, Lucky sounds like a celebration of the band's good fortune. Somber songs are still present, most notably the plaintive closer "The Film Did Not Go 'Round," but most of the album is dominated by steady, mid-tempo pop/rock. Nada Surf spent the first half of the 2000s making subdued rainy day records, which makes Lucky seem downright sunny (if not supernova bright) in comparison. There are some particularly luminous moments here, including the back-to-back punch of "Whose Authority" and "Beautiful Beat," where the songs immediately unleash their hooks and sustain that energy for minutes. "Beautiful beat, get me out of this mess; beautiful beat, lift me up from distress," sings Matthew Caws, sounding restless and happy at the same time, as if he knows his anxiety can be quelled at any moment by the sounds of his brightest record to date. But Lucky never gets lost in that sort of happiness. Nada Surf has seen too much over the past 15 years not to be cautious, and the leadoff track "See These Bones" warns younger bands to be similarly careful with their careers. "Look alive, see these bones," the lyrics advise. "What you are now, we were once -- and just like we are, you'll be dust." As the song ends, three different melodies weave themselves together, all of them instantly memorable and worthy of being a chorus in their own right. So even when Lucky tries to turn down the glow, it still radiates with the oomph of a solid power pop release, making Nada Surf's fifth album a fine finale for a weekend well-spent." - AMG