At 24 years old, Nada Surf is a band who has kept a firm hold of and preserved that gentle, alternative rock sound that —for me anyway— saw its highpoint in the late 00s amongst the likes of Modest Mouse and The Shins.
I found this out recently when, after for no real reason losing touch with the band after 2008’s Lucky, I came across You Know Who You Are, the band’s eighth full-length record released earlier this year. “Believe You’re Mine” put a smile on my face with its typically Nada Surf youthful spirit, sounding like it could have come straight off Lucky.
It was whilst writing You Know Who You Are when the band’s frontman Matthew Caws was to his surprise contacted by the Austrian national radio station FM4, who annually select a musical act to broadcast with their national orchestra. Word clearly spread quickly, and soon the band were confirmed to join the Babelsberg Film Orchestra in Germany, who take their name from the revered Babelsberg Studios, which produced cinematic classics such as Dr. Mabuse and Metropolis.
A year later and overseen by Calexico’s Martin Wenk and composer Max Knuth, the project was recorded with the ORF Radio Symphony Orchestra in Vienna and the Babelsberg Film Orchestra in Potsdam. Opening on “Comes A Time” from 2005’s The Weight Is A Gift, it’s immediately clear how well the orchestral fusion will work, replacing the dreamy opening vocals of the original with grand string passages, whilst a flute follows Caw’s vocal melodies in the verses with an appropriate innocence.
The quality of the live recording is first rate, not letting the orchestra overbear in the mix but allow it to compliment the diverse selection of songs from the band’s back catalogue, from “Blizzard of 77” to “The Fox”. In terms of composition, the orchestral arrival is balanced as well, at times leading the movement and at others letting the original songs speak for themselves, as in the gorgeous closer “Are You Lightning”.
Revisiting their past and marking their present, Peaceful Ghosts celebrates Nada Surf’s history by adorning it in an ornate and orchestral veneer.