Nada Surf, with Death Cab for Cutie

In one of 2003's best musical surprises, Nada Surf -- a band that has struggled to exorcise the memory of its 1996 novelty hit "Popular" from the record-buying consciousness -- has released a disc with the healing power of a dozen Max von Sydows. Like Spoon's brilliant transistor-radio pastiche Kill the Moonlight last year, Nada Surf's Let Go is a virtual reinvention, forceful and pointillist.

The band strips each song nearly bare, without sacrificing melody or drama. Coldplay would be proud to claim "Inside of Love" or "Neither Heaven Nor Space," but Nada Surf cries over spilled gasoline, not milk -- "Treading Water" and "Hi-Speed Soul" could have come from only a U.S. garage, built to be jackhammered on stage. Regardless of some Lawnboy fuzzbox, though, the songs on Let Go form a brokenhearted whole that's unexpectedly mature, subtle and affecting.

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