It’s early in my pandemic processing, and I’m finding I have little patience for facile pep talks, force-fed silver linings, and dip-shitty optimism, but every time I hear Nada Surf’s new single “So Much Love” and its reminder that “The world is all flavors all the time/The dark ages had the same sunny skies/In the Summer of Love we were at war/We have all these feelings, don’t know what for,” I’m filled with those difficult to come by supplies in these coronavirus times, love and hope.
That’s why it’s been so healing to hear “So Much Love” these #StayAtHome days on the Current, rescued as it has been from the solitary confinement of solo streaming, and every damn time I do, I react like a kid who’s been waiting to hear his favorite song on the AM radio of yore. There’s still no communal feeling like hearing a great song together, all of us lifted en masse and brought together by one free floating moment of sound and splash of poetic wisdom. Does that even happen anymore? Ya gotta believe.
Formed in New York City in the early ’90s and led by singer/songwriter Matthew Caws, Nada Surf’s previous uppers “Always Love” and “Waiting For Something” are on every one of my own permanent personal playlists, with those soaring harmonies and melodies and chiming guitars and keyboards living in my head, heart, and ears all these years—especially this year, the year to end all years. Their new Never Not Together album (italics mine) was released on February 7, as shutdowns and pandemic body counts were ramping up in China and Europe. Not long after they canceled their European tour, Caws posted on his Instagram page the closing-credits graphic from Taika Waititi’s brilliant Jo Jo Rabbit, which consists of a few words from the poet Rainer Maria Rilke:
Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final.
Rilke died in 1926, but the passage (from his “Go to the Limits of Your Longing”) could double as a Nada Surf lyric in 2020. Obviously crafted to the bleak backdrop of the toxic Trump tsunami, with many of the songs (“Matilda,” “Come Get Me”) written from the perspective of a wounded inner child versus the bullies of the world, the isolation-bucking Never Not Together comes with a batch of tunes that similarly seeks to build community out of chaos and rocks as only great pop-rock does. Over the course of nine songs, Nada Surf manages the neat trick of lifting us up on the strength of cathartic chord progressions and boy-on-boy harmonies that cut deep and soar to infinity and beyond.
As do the lyrics, penned mostly by Caws, one of America’s greatest unsung songwriters, who writes from the heart of a fellow citizen who’s just trying to get by, and hoping to see everybody on the other side. For the rest of us shut-ins, the deep listening of such a well-crafted album in a single listening session yields much health and well-being: Sung with Caws’ trademark urgency, “So Much Love” is a wake-up call to the inner light in all of us, an inner power that we can tap when everything else falls apart, and a breaking news bulletin that blows the lid off the idea that there’s “so much love everywhere, so much love in the air,” if only we harness its frequency and power.
Which is to say that Never Not Together is all about universal love, and its power to spread like a virus. “Ride in the Unknown” reminds us “The good and the bad news will still be there/But don’t think about that now/Lift your anchor and set your sails.” “Live and Learn and Forget” comes with the Zen-like wisdom of an older rocker, while “Looking For You” is an inspiring admonition to keep going and keep creating from within. Similarly, the joyfully jarring “Crowded Star” may be a celebration of the transformational powers of newfound love, but at the moment, “I was ready for a change before you came/I was looking for a way to not stay the same” rings as a lesson of forced change, sung to the very plague that is currently resetting the planet.
As COVID-19 has continued to spread, we’ve been reminded that we’re all in this together. To that end, Never Not Together’s cathartic centerpiece, “Something I Should Do,” concludes with an on-point and off-the-rails spoken word rant that ends, “Hippies sure had a point… We have to hold to that hippie point harder: Empathy is good, lack of empathy is bad/Holy math says we’re never not together.”As any metaphysicist can tell you, holy math indeed got it right, and social distancing, death, or red state versus blue state be damned, we’re never not together. But for the unconvinced, lonely and overwhelmed, “Just Wait” offers the wisdom of patience (“slow down and let’s see where it goes”) and a chorus that works like a shovel digging out of this hole:
So when it feels too big
And you can’t find your place
You’ve got too many choices
Are you the only one
Who doesn’t know their way?
There are so many noises
You’re gonna be just fine
It might take some time
But you gotta know it’s gonna be okay
Just wait, just wait
Not unlike Wilco’s Yankee Foxtrot Hotel and its seemingly prescient foreshadowing of 9/11, Never Not Together begs to be heard in the crazy here and now. In a fast-changing world where we all will be called on to offer our gifts to the tribe more and more often, Caws gives his gift of love, and songs about love, to raise and keep spirits up. Nada Surf was scheduled to play the Fine Line in June, and while it’s crushing to think that we won’t all get to gather to sing along to all these dance-amidst-the-dystopia songs together, and feel the room lift in a way that only live music can lift, that doesn’t mean it can’t happen alone, or “together,” always and forever.