It appears this is a website where middle class white guys talk about music they’re already predisposed to like. I think I’ll fit right in.
I don’t know how they do it. The National, I mean. They’re so much better than they should be. Think about it, they’re the same as any other indie band, right? Guy with a baritone voice for a singer, lashings of reverb and orchestration across their records, black-and-white promo shots of the band dressed smart-casual. Yet they add up to a lot more than the sum of their parts.
A couple of years ago, I’d heard their last album (2007’s brilliant Boxer) was “the kind of thing I might like”. At the earliest opportunity I picked it up. Socks requisitely blown off, I had the rest of the back-catalogue within the space of a few months. It’d be reasonable to compare their career trajectory to that of Elbow; years of slogging, each album steadily improving over the last, before they finally broke through. And so we arrive at their latest release – High Violet.
In fact, perhaps that’s why they tower above their peers; they’ve had plenty of time to hone their songwriting. The songs on High Violet are left to speak for themselves. What experimentation is present nudges gently at you (as on opener Terrible Love, or Little Faith). Likewise, while the presence of strings and brass is inversely proportionate to the tempo of the songs (England, Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks), it never feels like they’re screaming “HEY LOOK WE’VE GOT AN ORCHESTRA”. There’s an admirable subtlety and restraint that runs throughout the album.
Or maybe it’s because there’s two sets of brothers in the band, the music certainly has a coherence most indie groups would dream of. There’s a balance between the slow songs and the fast songs, and the fast songs that start as slow songs. Bryan Devendorf flails away in a peculiarly rigid manner that would make a drum machine envious. However, instead of succumbing to angular rhythmic clichés, the rest of the band balances him out with thoughtful arrangements that give the music an indefinable warmth (Little Faith).
Then of course, there’s their trump card. Matt Berninger’s vocals make you want to listen closer (wait, did he really just sing “I was afraid I’d eat your brains, because I’m evil”?), as he navigates from almost-a-whisper to almost-a-yelp. When he loses control towards the end of Afraid Of Everyone, you go with him. It’s a stately and subtle loss of control, obviously, but following ghostly backdrop provided by guest vocalist Bon Iver, it feels all the more genuine.
So, The National. Really fucking good. The new album? When I got it I listened to it three times back-to-back. I’d advise you to do the same.