Release Date: Oct 29, 2013
Record label: Barsuk
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Indie Pop, Indipop
Matthew Caws (of Nada Surf) and Juliana Hatfield (of Blake Babies, Some Girls and The Lemonheads) have proven, career-long track records of writing solid “alternative” indie rock, so it’s no surprise that their debut record together under the moniker of Minor Alps, Get There, is a thoughtful, interesting record (about what it means to be thoughtful and interesting). What is kind of interesting is how the two of them mostly eschew the conventional alt-rock sound that has more or less defined their careers up to this point; instead, they chose to focus on writing a record based on creating a specific mood through the use of ambient keyboard sounds, distant digital drums and gently plucked guitars. That’s not to say that there aren’t grittier moments where the duo’s alternative pop-rock backgrounds shine through, as on songs like “I Don’t Know What to Do with My Hands” and, especially, “Mixed Feelings,” but for the most part, this project shows of a new side to both of these songwriters by adding a more adult-indie edge to their music.
One should never underestimate the value of good harmonies; more than a few acts have enjoyed long and healthy careers based on their ability to wrap their voices around one another, and judging from their debut album, Get There, Minor Alps have the potential to follow in their footsteps. Minor Alps is a collaborative project featuring Matthew Caws of Nada Surf and former Blake Baby Juliana Hatfield, and Get There reveals they make a great team -- their voices mesh beautifully, enough so that just hearing them sing together would make this album worth a listen even if the songs weren't up to par. Thankfully, that's not the case; for the most part, Get There is a set of graceful pop tunes with subtle but effective melodies that float over a bed of guitars and electronics, and the music provides a lovely backdrop for the duet vocals on "Buried Plans," "Radio Static," and "If I Wanted Trouble.
Usually when experienced music veterans join forces, the result is a mixed bag wherein it’s blatantly obvious where one party took the songwriting into his or her own hands. But on their first project as a duo, Juliana Hatfield and Nada Surf’s Matthew Caws have a synergy that makes you wonder why they didn’t collaborate sooner. Though “subdued” is a dirty word that’s thrown around a lot, in the case of the collection that comprises Get There, the duo shines bright when they pick up the pace (which isn’t often enough).
Matthew Caws and Juliana Hatfield are living proof that some songwriters never tire. For decades, the two Northeastern personalities have entertained small audiences without ever sacrificing their creative voices, and it’s worked well for them. Caws’ resume with Nada Surf improves with age (see: 2012’s The Stars are Indifferent to Astronomy), while Hatfield unwraps new material on a whim.
By luck or calculation, alt.rock veterans Juliana Hatfield and Nada Surf’s Matthew Caws have discovered they’re a perfect pairing. Think Jim Reid and Hope Sandoval on The Jesus And Mary Chain’s ‘Sometimes Always’ – sugar-sweet voices destined to be together. As Minor Alps, Hatfield and Caws have made a gorgeous debut that sounds as if they’ve recorded it in each other’s pockets, their tones exquisitely matched, the songs intimate.
The combination of Juliana Hatfield and Nada Surf's Matthew Caws goes beyond being good on paper. In the past, they've contributed backing vocals to each other's songs, but with Minor Alps, they've created a collaboration that plays to both their strengths. It sounds as if they've been making music together for years and Get There is dominated by the duo's glorious vocals.
It's a long time since Matthew Caws was angrily railing against the iniquity of high school social structures on Nada Surf's college rock anthem "Popular" and it shows. Of course, if any middle-aged man continued to channel all his artistic energy into berating jocks, cheerleaders, cool kids, and high achievers it would look rather desperate, frozen, and weird. Such arrested development would eventually lead to some kind of messy public breakdown.
Pairing Juliana Hatfield with Nada Surf’s Matthew Caws makes sense. Both had brushes with mainstream success as MTV-approved alt-rock acts in the 90s. Both eschewed any laurel-resting and stretched those fleeting moments of pop-culture prominence into lengthy careers that have creatively eclipsed (or at least matched) their early work—so much so that they’re now known by many more for their output in the aughts than those angsty beginnings.
File this oddly named sympathetic collaboration between ex-Blake Babies gone solo singer/songwriter Juliana Hatfield and Nada Surf frontman Matthew Caws under indie adult pop. The duo co-write, sing and play nearly every instrument on a predominantly lush, lovely rendered debut that is never less than pleasant. Unfortunately, it’s seldom more than that either as these amiable tunes drift on a dreamy haze that threatens to slide into a memorable chorus or melody, but seldom does.
Juliana Hatfield and Matthew Caws have been indie-rock bandleaders for more than 20 years: Mr. Caws with Nada Surf, Ms. Hatfield under her own name. And they must be well aware of the paradox when they sing “Such a loner/Hardly bring anyone over,” to open the thoroughly collaborative album they ….