New York based four-piece Nada Surf have just released a new live album entitled Peaceful Ghosts. Now, if you’re familiar with the band you’ll be thinking ‘Didn’t they just release a live album last year?’ and you’d be right. However, 2015’s Live at the Neptune Theatre was just a straightforward live album, Peaceful Ghosts was recorded because the band were offered the opportunity to record with the Vienna’s Babelsberg Film Orchestra and to be fair to the band there are only two songs which appear on both live cuts.
For almost 25 years Nada Surf have been evoking the spirit of the west coast from the east coast. They proudly sport their influences on their sleeve, they even have a song titled ‘Blonde on Blonde’ about blasting the Bob Dylan song of the same name from a ‘portable stereo’. Dylan may be a lyrical influence but the band place a lot more emphasis on melody than the Nobel neglecting Zimmerman – Tom Petty is a more obvious source of inspiration. Well-constructed songs decorated with the subtle twang of Doug Gillard’s lead guitar, not quite full-blown country but imbued with more than a hint of the hay bale.
After just one listen to Peaceful Ghosts it’s easy to hear why Nada Surf didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to record with the Austrian orchestra. The arrangements breathe new life into several of the songs, taking them to completely different places. ‘Believe You’re Mine’ is a great example – the steady gentle back and forth rock of the verse bursts into horn punctuated euphoria for the chorus as the rest of the orchestra swells around the song. ‘Beautiful Beat’ is a love letter to music, promoting it as an alternative to the chemical enhancement it so often goes hand in hand with.
’80 Windows’ is a conceptual highlight, the narrator looks into the vast number (well 80 actually) of windows on an adjacent apartment block at the lives lived within, enjoying the isolated emotion he conveys from each individual window like it’s a living and breathing advent calendar. ‘The Fox’ is a loaded but not very well disguised attack on the policies of Fox News, one of the few moments on the record the California sunshine is blocked out by a dark foreboding feeling enhanced by the orchestra.
At this stage Nada Surf are grizzled veterans. Quality songs played and recorded well, backed by a fantastic orchestra there to serve the songs – an excellent addition that makes for a strong live record. If you’re a Nada Surf fan you’ll want to pick this up on top of the Neptune Theatre recording. If you only have a passing interest in the band Peaceful Ghosts is well worth the punt.