When the NYC pop band Nada Surf first emerged with the snotty ’96 hit loser anthem "Popular," they looked like the second coming of Weezer — cute video, Ric Ocasek–produced debut album, nerd glasses, and all. Weezer have since parlayed their taste for cheap thrills into a lucrative comeback, but Nada Surf have chosen to follow fellow alt-rock survivors the Flaming Lips and Superdrag into the less-commercial realm of highbrow art-pop. Accordingly, their second Elektra album got lost in the major-label shuffle, and after finally getting it out on an indie, the band are just now resurfacing with a third on the Seattle label Barsuk (home of Death Cab for Cutie). They prove they can still do loud and fast on "The Way You Wear Your Head," which resurrects the geeky charm of "Popular" with its playful Cheap Trick quotes. The guitar-heavy "Hi-Speed Soul" is a new-wave romp that’s as goofy as it is catchy. More indicative of the group’s current direction is "Blizzard of ’77," which opens the disc with a haunting collage of acoustic guitars and vocal harmonies. Nada Surf might not be as fun as they used to be, but there’s plenty of beauty in their sophistication — and everyone has to grow up eventually.
(Nada Surf perform this Wednesday, February 19, Upstairs at the Middle East, with Sondre Lerche and the People. Call 617-864-EAST.)