Deserted: Nada Surf ‒ High/Low

Perched on shelves, buried in bins, and collecting dust on racks, some of the world’s best music is left to the fate of time. Forgotten and neglected, these artists and albums are now primed for re-evaluation thanks to a world gone digital. Any would-be musical explorer can now plug in, tune out, and turn up. Deserted is aimed at aiding those who would embrace the past rather than reject it. So open up your arms and welcome Nada Surf.

Among the pantheon of the unappreciated lays High/Low. Critics of the 1996 album were quick to paint it with the brush of the impactful single, “Popular,” and throw it aside when no official second single sprouted from its musical effigy. Of course, looking back we can clearly see that perhaps High/Low wasn’t the full picture of Nada Surf--and at the risk of sounding like an old timer, High/Low and the follow-up, The Proximity Effect (which also met with caustic natures) -- were the height of the trio’s canon even as the band continues to forge forward with a lighter sound.

The big, soft rubbery ones Nada Surf produces these days seem light compared to the in-your-face casualness of High/Low. The album began with two powerful punches, continually ignored by alterna-pop enthusiasts who still boil down Nada Surf’s imprint to the MTV glean of “Popular.” Considering the many careers built on kitsch (hello, Beck), it’s a shame that High/Low suffers from those slings and arrows. The simplicity of “Deeper Well” calls to the primal isolation every homosapien faces daily (when was hitting the nail on the head deemed a musical sin and why must it still be shamed?). The same hierarchical praise modern Nada Surf receives for condensing love into stylized emo-pop has found critical fans and yet High/Low stands its martyr.

“The Plan” is a rare gem that melds a swatch of styles from the 70s, 80s, and 90s into a package that Nada Surf has yet to top: the urgency of the guitar during the frantic verses; the dark pop of the chorus; the punk rhythm -- Ric Ocasek’s production cleaning it up, yet not disinfecting the melody. The soul sour desperation of “Zen Brain,” calling to arms the disenfranchised to reclaim themselves in the face of a society moving closer to a hive mind, embodies the High/Low experience and still no one cares. Where is “Popular Part II”? High/Low never needed it.

The biggest mistake is how critics continue to ignore High/Low. The gift of retrospection has allowed critics to eat crow safely, embracing their cast-offs in long-overdue make-up sessions. But we stand 15 years after Nada Surf’s major label debut and it’s still a leper. It’s time to rectify the noticeable mistake and realign Nada Surf’s trajectory before High/Low is lost.

Justin Spicer is a freelance journalist whose work can be viewed at his website. He also pens Agitated Atmosphere for the KEXP Blog. You may follow him on Twitter.

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2 Comments

  1. Karin Baer
    Posted February 1, 2011 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

    I <3 Nada Surf.

  2. Soun
    Posted February 2, 2011 at 3:13 am | Permalink

    I AGREE !!!! I discovered this album in 1999, I still listening to “zen brain” or “hollywood” !

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