Nada Surf Get Philosophical on 'Never Not Together'

Photo: Annie Dressner / Courtesy of Big Hassle Media

Never Not Together is the best record Nada Surf have made in quite a while, as it sees the indie rock/power pop group stress the need for more empathy in the world.

Never Not Together
Nada Surf


7 February 2020

Nada Surf have been at it since the 1990s with the same core trio of Matthew Caws (vocals and guitar), Daniel Lorca (bass, backing vocals), and Ira Elliot (drums). They play catchy power-pop and often write excellent songs. That hasn't changed over the decades. But Never Not Together is their first album in quite a while where the band seem fully engaged with the material.

That is apparent in the lyrical content of the album, which finds Caws in a more philosophical mood than usual. The record's middle track, "Something I Should Do", is a sterling example of this. It opens with the distinctive "chuk chuk chuk chuk" sound of an electric guitar counting off the tempo. It then launches into a crunchy, catchy riff that's joined after a few seconds by the rest of the band, including auxiliary member Louie Lino on a wobbly Moog-style synth. Caws sings about a lovely day in the city in late October before hitting the chorus, "Dance dance / Around the door." Another verse about letting go and just existing follows, and then Caws unexpectedly launches into a fast-moving spoken word torrent about villages hundreds of years ago where nothing changed over a lifetime.

That may be the first time we've heard Caws speaking on a track since their 1990s hit "Popular" put them on the map. He sounds so different speaking versus singing that it's almost like getting a cameo appearance from the guy from "Popular", which tickled the nostalgic part of my brain. After going through the main melody again, Caws returns with an even longer second spoken word section to finish out the song. He talks about social media and being hooked and self-critiquing and how he's trying to get away from excoriating himself. He winds his way around to the point at the end. "Hippies sure had a point / Empathy is good, lack of empathy is bad / And now the lines of non-facts waiting to get into a conversation are longer, and longer / And some people can't be beat in an argument / And we have to hold onto that hippie point harder / Empathy is good, lack of empathy is bad / Holy math says we're never not together."

It's an interesting song because Caws' words tumble over each other so quickly (and it's just a little bit buried by the music) that it takes a few listens to really get what he's saying. But it's clear that empathy is the key for him, and it drives many of the other songs on the album. "Live Learn & Forget" begins with a chiming minor-key guitar riff, which quickly opens up into a driving full band song where the most distinctive part is Lino's prominent, simple piano accompaniment on the chorus. Lyrically the song finds Caws getting philosophical again. He begins by talking about how he doesn't feel like writing about love anymore, and moves on to "So put your anger away / You're in no danger of dying out / You don't need to be right / It's overrated anyhow." Near the end, he concludes, "It's always what you do next / There's always another track", and that feeds back into the chorus and title of the song, "Live and learn, forget."

Musically, the most interesting song on Never Not Together is the multi-faceted "Mathilda", which runs through a gamut of styles over its six minutes. It opens with a minute of Caws and acoustic guitar singing about how he was teased with the nickname "Mathilda" as a child for being slightly effeminate. It then switches to another chiming minor-key electric guitar riff, where the band sounds as if it might be underwater. Forty-five seconds later, it's full-on rock with distorted guitars and driving drums and a soaring vocal melody. Caws ties that childhood experience back into a more global perspective of male fragility and battered self-esteem. After allowing the music to fade away around the 4:20 mark, the band changes over into a relaxed, more folky vibe that finishes out the song, concluding with "There's a special Hell / That we build for ourselves / And it's handed down / In homes and playgrounds."

With these big mission statement songs carrying the load, the remainder of the album allows the band to do some really solid work that leans into their strengths. "Come Get Me" is a relaxed pop-rock track that features a beautiful melody that emphasizes Caws' singing and some tasteful use of the Moog sound by Lino. It's an interestingly constructed song, too, with the first three minutes being all verses and the final two being variations on the chorus. "Just Wait" is a melancholy ballad with acoustic guitars and cello and a busy vocal melody. Here Caws advises stressed people, "You're gonna be just fine / It might take some time / But you gotta know / It's gonna be okay / Just wait."

The insistent "Ride in the Unknown" finishes out the album with an upbeat, high-energy feel. The driving beat and bass from Elliot and Lorca push the song along, and subtle saxophone and keys fill out the sound. Caws again has a strong melody and vocals here. And again, he's talking about empathy, in this case being there for one another no matter the situation.

That lyrical focus on moving forward, supporting one another, and having empathy could easily have turned cloying throughout a whole album. But Caws' singing is excellent, bringing life to a bunch of great melodies, and the band are also in fine form. They know when to turn up the volume and when to back off and when songs need some crunch and when they need more orchestration. Never Not Together is the best record Nada Surf have made in quite a while, and it's worth giving it a listen for any lapsed fans.






The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".


Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".


Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.