In my conversations with Gretchen’s Wheel, also known as Lindsay Murray, she would cite the artists that informed her decision to get into music. There were usual suspects, of course, but at the top of her list was the band Nada Surf.
It’s impossible to dismiss the band’s influence on a generation of musicians, even if Nada Surf never exploded at the top of the pop charts. Arriving in 1996 with High/Low, they brought a hard electric buzz to a precision-built power-pop machine. They were a more-earnest entry in this form, whereas some of their stylistic contemporaries – solo Frank Black, Sugar with Bob Mould, and Weezer – traded in explosive, punk-ish attitudes and an overall sense that “hey, we’re just messing with you, and lighten up already.” Some would argue such touches were necessary at the time, as things were way too serious in the backwash of the Alternative Nation bust and slow fizzle.
Nada Surf were more serious, but the effect was that their songs held up so much better than others of the period. They managed to buck the tide of cringe-worthy smirks and obtuse ideas. Matthew Caws, Daniel Lorca, Ira Elliot, and later Doug Gillard tended to wear their sincerity on their sleeve, and that was refreshing. (Speaking of obtuse, Gillard has throughout been a member of Guided By Voices as well, helping to rein in Robert Pollard’s stream-of-consciousness.)
Murray has carried these traits on in her own work. Releasing consistently since 2015, her vocal harmonies and lyrical twists and knots obeyed that same sincerity she found from Nada Surf, all the while as she tore up amps with a resounding, buzzing guitar roar. Last year’s Black Box Theory was all the confirmation anyone would need, but that came at a cost. Murray put everything she had and more into getting the record in front of people, and did a remarkably good job at it…but it must have been exhausting. She mentioned late in 2018 that she was taking a hiatus from writing and recording her songs.
Key phrase: her songs.
Moth To Lamplight: A Tribute To Nada Surf is a passion project, a shout-out to the band that gave her so much, and in typical fashion, Murray puts everything she has behind it. Kicking off with the barnstorming “amateur,” originally appearing of Nada Surf’s 1998 record The Proximity Effect, the vocabulary is revealed – thoughtful verses, buzzsaw choruses, and hooks as big as a fist. One of the band’s b-sides, “no quick fix,” gets a perfect, powerful honorarium. Throughout the recording’s eight tracks, one hears how much the band meant to Murray and, fortunately for listeners, she has the ability and chops to do it right.
And that’s important: that even though Gretchen’s Wheel is doing the songs of Nada Surf, it is still Murray’s record. Crushing drum work from Nick Bertling aside, the rest of the album is all Lindsay, from super-tight vocal harmonies to all the guitars, to even the album cover design, there is a reason why (much too slowly) the audience is turning her way.
Stop waiting. Even if you have never heard a single Nada Surf song or a single Gretchen’s Wheel song, Moth To Lamplight: A Tribute To Nada Surf has what it takes to take over your brain for a good, long time, and you’ll love every minute of it.