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It’s to Nada Surf’s credit that “Popular,” the band’s debut single, works as well on the audio-only High/Low as it does in its manic Buzz Binned video. There, singer Matthew Caws advises a classroom full of nubiles to wreak emotional havoc on their male counterparts—and, oh yeah, “make sure to keep your hair spotless and clean! Wash it at least every two weeks!” Aside from that dating-guide parody, this power trio’s Ric Ocasek–produced disc is heavy on stuff designed to play well both in teen-hang parking lots and biker bars. In fact, “Deeper Well” is enough to deflect the suspicion that these guys were just name-dropping when they mentioned Funhouse in their bio. There are deftly placed nods to Sonic Youth and the Pixies, too. Still, the hook-centric sound, and the spoken verses of the hit, ultimately bring to mind a more aggressive version of another Ocasek client—Weezer. Whatever you make of that similarity, lines like “it’s been hundreds of beers” and “the times I have the most to say are the times that I can’t talk” are pretty smart restatements of the time-honored 16 blues (or blahs). As you’d expect, “Popular” remains the real gem, but as potentially nondescript modern-rock albums go, this one’s got the kind of staying power that should keep it out of the used-CD bins at least until the fall semester begins.

—Rickey Wright