Former Mayflies USA member Adam Price fled to Los Angeles after that band released its third full-length, Walking in a Straight Line, for Yep Roc Records in 2002. He couldn't stay still: In Los Angeles, he drafted the songs that, several years later, comprise Makeout City, the debut from his Hundred Air. In that interim, he returned to Chapel Hill to begin recording the songs with Brian Paulson, only to relocate to California before settling again in North Carolina to form the band in earnest.
To that end, City leans on the sort of hard-earned maturity that has tempted and lived the grass-is-always-greener cliché by moving to another coast (four times) to return to what has become home. Price reckons with his regrets on leaving, singing about getting his life together and his head-up in the big city. On the gracious sleigh-bell jangle of "All the Lights Are On," he details his preparations for leaving and his hesitance to get in the car. "Don't Look in My Window" plops a new instrument (claps, drums, second guitar, keyboards and harmonies) into the mix the first four times Price eases out the refrain, as though the band is a gang of friends urging him to stick to his decision.
This reluctance is, luckily, the symptom of a strong swill of youthful exuberance that's clung to Price: Album closer "Hold on a Minute" nods to Tom Petty's "Learning to Fly" but twists its protagonist into a duet pair of young, hopeless romantics: "Hold on a minute/ Summer's almost over/ We should get together one more time," they sing as the organ swells and a sharp electric guitar leads the band into a grinning two-minute coda.
That same spirit applies to the lush, loose space Hundred Air explores so well here, much like Nada Surf has done for its last three records. It's something Mayflies hinted at with the softer spots of 2000's The Pity List and the Keith Cleversley-produced Line. Now, though, Price's acoustic guitar becomes the melodic center, as his studio band—Lee and Jenny Waters, Jeff Clarke, producer Brian Pauslon—help him find shape, just like friends welcoming someone home. For the most part, it's a fine arrival.
Hundred Air plays Local 506 Friday, Sept. 14, at 10 p.m. Joe Romeo & the Orange County Volunteers and Matt Long open. Tickets are $5.