Certain Songs #1225: Nada Surf – “Blankest Year”

Album: The Weight is A Gift
Year: 2005

I can hear you saying: “Nada Surf? Aren’t they that band who had that one novelty song on MTV, like, 20 years ago?”

Yes. That song was called “Popular,” and was a pretty big Modern Rock song back when that was a thing, and it was a song that I completely ignored at the time, as well, even though I’m sure it was all over Live 105. And so I dismissed Nada Surf as being like Third Eye Blind or Marcy Playground or a million other Modern Rock one-hit-wonders from the late 1990s.

But I was dead wrong: starting with 2002’s Let Go, Nada Surf has released a series of utterly great and utterly ignored power pop albums that mix uptempo hooky gems with more low-key atmospheric songs.

Of course none of those seemingly radio-friendly songs were on the radio: music like this that guys like me feel like is tailor-made for the radio has of course dropped completely off of it. By 2005, power pop was neither commercial nor hip. But when a bunch of good reviews — though not in Pitchfork, never in Pitchfork — spurred me to take a chance on Nada Surf for the first time ever, it turned out their maturity suited them well: I really liked The Weight is a Gift, and I especially loved “Blankest Year,” one of my favorite songs of that or any decade.

It takes all of 20 seconds for “Blankest Year” to kick in. First there’s a bouncy drumbeat from Ira Elliott, who is joined up by big glammy guitar chords from Matthew Caws and rumbly bass from Daniel Lorca, as Caws joyously shouts one of the greatest opening lines of any song ever:

Oh, fuck it!
I’m gonna have a party
Oh, fuck it!
I’m gonna have a party

The epitome of Pete Townshend’s maxim that “rock and roll won’t solve your problems, but it will let you dance all over them,” the entire sentiment of that opening resonated in my brain from the moment I heard it, and it’s run through my brain countless times as we’ve set up various gatherings with our friends over the years.

In the case of Matthew Caws, it sounded like the party was also a well-needed catharsis. As the guitars cascade and the drums power through, he explains on the chorus:

I had the blankest year
I saw life turn into a T.V. show
It was totally weird
The person I knew I didn’t really know

It had been such a weird year for him, he’d become disconnected from himself, dispassionately watching his life without really participating in it. And while his relationships crumbled, at least his band thrived. And all the while in the song, there are even more guitars and drums, and then as the song rollicks to the end, one more utterly genius move: call-and-response vocals.

Oh, fuck it!
(Fuck iiiiiiiiiiiit!)
I’m gonna have a party
Oh, fuck it
(Fuck iiiiiiiiiiiit!)
I’m gonna have a party
Oh, fuck it
(Fuck iiiiiiiiiiiit!)
I’m gonna have a party

I’m a simple person: an angelic three-part harmony echoing “fuck iiiiiiiiiiiiiit” over fuzzy guitars was always going to be one of my favorite things in the known universe, especially in this context. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one: on their live album, they definitely play up the call-and-response, stopping the song cold so that the audience can yell “fuck iiiiiiiiiiiiit” at the top of their lungs.

Sure, maybe it’s cheap as fuck, but it seems like it’s even more fun than it sounds.

“Blankest Year”

“Blankest Year” Live in Sydney, 2012

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