“Amateur” by Nada Surf

39. Song No. 289: “Amateur,” Nada Surf
The Proximity Effect, 1998

If you only know Nada Surf for their mid-’90s hit “Popular” or are surprised that they’re even still making music, you are missing out on the eight (yes, really) incredible albums they’ve released since then. The band has spiraled well beyond the alt-rock beginnings that made them famous enough to be a one-hit wonder in popular-music terms, though they can still churn out some face-meltingly awesome tunes and delicately beautiful existential meditations with equal finesse. And they continue to be one of those bands whose output is consistently incredible (You Know Who You Are is objectively one of the best albums of 2016 and nothing will sway me to believe otherwise).

Nada Surf is also one of those bands I find impossible to identify a favorite album from. There is so much and are so many different things to love about every album they’ve given to the world, and there’s some wonderful beating heart in each one that’s unfair to compare to anything else.

As a sophomore album, Proximity Effect is such a wonderful transition between breakout hopefuls’ debut and the confidence of a band that refused to yield its vision to commercial success, and there are so many gems here. “Slow Down” is my long-reigning high point of the album but “Amateur” just came out of nowhere and commanded my attention. And I can’t stop listening to it. Nada Surf’s roots and a glimpse into its future play off each other in a way that I never noticed before, largely because Let Go, their third album and one whose early college release date dropped it in my lap at the most perfect time (courtesy of my favorite label Barsuk, no less), is really where this band starts sounding like the one I fell in love with: It and everything after tend to be what I listen to when I want to listen to Nada Surf.

A couple of these songs so far have nudged me toward listening to their full albums when I need a break from alphabetical audio. Letting “Amateur” lead me back to The Proximity Effect has been like catching up with an old friend and remembering all the reasons I love them.

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