Nada Surf

If I Had a Hi-Fi

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There's something about a band recording an album of covers that sends up a red flag in the minds of many listeners, as if the musicians are acknowledging they've run out of ideas and must sift through other folks' material in order to pad out their repertoire. This might seem particularly troubling to fans of Nada Surf, since their continued existence after the flash-in-the-pan success of "Popular" in 1996 has had so much to do with their growing strength as idiosyncratic pop songwriters, but for whatever reason, the group has chosen to interpret the work of 12 other acts on their sixth studio album, If I Had a Hi-Fi, and they've done it in a way that avoids sounding like a holding action. Nada Surf have certainly become more comfortable and accomplished in the studio a decade-and-a-half since making their first record, and If I Had a Hi-Fi is as impressive a piece of studio craft as the band has created to date. Matthew Caws, Ira Elliot, and Daniel Lorca have managed to give these songs a personal stamp without burying the melodic sensibility of the originals, and the arrangements are imaginative and full-bodied, with the trio bringing in a variety of guest musicians to broaden the scope of the music while the core musicians sound tight and emphatic. The song selection is admirably eclectic as well, encompassing indie rock heroes (Spoon, Bill Fox), icons of pop (the Go-Betweens, Dwight Twilley), elders of the new wave (Depeche Mode), visionary eccentrics (Arthur Russell, the Silly Pillows), a pair of prog rockers (the Moody Blues, Kate Bush) and even some international artists, performed in their original languages (Mercromina, Coralie Clément). Nada Surf have found ways to approach these songs that free them from the constraints of their definitive versions while staying true to their spirit (surprisingly, it's the Moody Blues' "Question" that most closely follows the original), and it's not hard to see how these musicians have made their mark on Nada Surf's musical outlook in one way or another. Nada Surf show they can play well with others on If I Had a Hi-Fi, though they'd do well to apply the lessons learned here to some new tunes for their next album. (After Nada Surf announced the release of If I Had a Hi-Fi, the Wisconsin-based rock band IfIHadAHiFi began work on an EP to be called Nada Surf. Turnabout is fair play.)

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