About halfway through The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy, singer Matthew Caws issues a mission statement to sum up this and all Nada Surf records: "It's never too late for teenage dreams." Those seven hopeful words perfectly summarize a long-suffering rock group's unflagging optimism and wise, wide-eyed love of life. Now in their early 40s, the members of Nada Surf — singer/guitarist Caws, bassist/singer Daniel Lorca and drummer/singer Ira Elliot — still function as perhaps the least cynical band in the world. They've been stars, back when they had a left-field novelty hit with "Popular" in 1996, and they'd rather be happy.
It's one thing to perform with your heart on your sleeve; it's another to hold it aloft in triumph, as if presenting baby Simba to the world in The Lion King. Caws is unafraid to think big — the album's title comes from a favorite saying of his father, a philosophy professor — but he's even more interested in sketching out blueprints for lives worth living. Picking a best song on The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy takes some doing, but it may just be "Looking Through," a quotable ode to joy and fearlessness in which Caws sings, "They say you die of shame, not cold, in the wild" shortly before asking, "Are you dancing? Are you dancing at all?"
Now seven albums into a 20-year career, Nada Surf relies on familiar ingredients throughout The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy, out Jan. 24: big guitars, beautiful vocal harmonies, generous affirmations. But a new Nada Surf record is formulaic the way springtime is formulaic: It's always there to be counted on, and always an intoxicating arrival.