and there's few things more loved by me than the National

>> Friday, January 29, 2010

You may have picked up on the reference to a stellar Brooklyn via Cincinnati band in the title of this blog. And if you haven’t? Then, my friend, it is high time you got into the National.


That is Matt up front. No ring at the time of this picture but trust me, ladies, he is taken.
The thing is, I don’t understand why this band is not more popular. Unlike many other indie-rock bands, there’s no gimmick or anything weird going on here. This is not music that requires a ridiculous new genre name to describe it (I’m looking at you, glo-fi / chillwave). Their sound is positively (not negatively) mainstream – five guys, a couple of guitars, and some drums. Sometimes strings and horns, too. I am having the worst time thinking of other bands they sound like but I don’t think that matters much, anyway. They sound intelligent, thoughtful, confused, drunk, moody, wry, self-deprecating, witty, and wise. Oh, and unpretentious. If I wrote songs this is how I’d want them to sound. Although - and it might just be my female perspective here - they also sound very masculine. I mean that in a very good way.
I first heard the National when a friend passed along their third LP, Alligator, in the summer of 2005. His comment was something like “here, you might like this. I’ve been listening to it for a couple of days and can’t figure out if I like it or not”. Summer 2005 was, if you recall, when people like the Go! Team (remember them?) and Devendra Banhart were making waves. People were really into some chick called M.I.A. Even though it was also the year of Sufjan and Arcade Fire, it felt like everything had gotten bright and poppy and weird. Which made the National an oddity. They sounded so accessible and - dare I say it - a little boring by comparison. Anyone giving Alligator a quick listen might conclude that it sounded nice but there wasn’t much there. And they would be very, very wrong (as many critics were at the time). My friend and I never did form a final opinion on the subject but we did notice that, months later, we were both still listening to the album regularly. Every few weeks I had a new favourite song. Some people call this a slow burn. I think it means that the guys in the band put a lot more effort into that record than most realized and that we were looking for the wrong things. Even still, when I found out there would be a new record, 2007’s Boxer, I surprised myself with how unbelievably excited I was.
Since then the band has achieved fame and glory (um, the indie version, anyway) and I think of them as something of a pillar in the indie rock community. That’s my youth showing, I guess – four albums makes you a pillar in my book. But tell me who else but the Dessner twins could have curated a charity compilation as solid as Dark Was the Night? The Springsteen mark of approval doesn’t hurt, either.
More things about the National (some disguised as facts about me):
  • This post is timely (if you ignore that it’s about 5 years late) because the National are playing Massey Hall on June 8. The fact that this show will likely sell out and another will be added makes my earlier comment about them being not well-known sound like lunacy. But I’ll let it stand.
  • More good news: the band has a new album due out this May. Pitchfork recently interviewed lead singer Matt Berninger about that.
  • For the last several months I have been thinking that, if I have one, my wedding song will be Lucky You. Before that I thought it could be Slow Show. Apologies to any potential future husband(s). Feel free to name the kids.
  • Magnet did an Over/Under on the National a while back. To help you get into things / feel badly about the songs you do like (god don't you just hate music snobs??)

2 comments:

MB January 29, 2010 at 3:52 PM  

Although - and it might just be my female perspective here - they also sound very masculine. I mean that in a very good way.

Good post but can you please stop further reifying discursively produced categories of identity? Thank you.

b January 29, 2010 at 4:08 PM  

Mike - please step away from the blog.

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this here ma blog.

I like to talk about things I have no particular expertise in. Especially music.

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