Posted in Album Reviews

The National – The National (2001)

The National

In Lizzy Goodman’s excellent book, Meet Me In the Bathroom that focuses on the New York rock scene of the early oughts, tellingly The National appear in a chapter entitled, “The Uncool Kids”.  However, over the years they would become one of the biggest bands to emerge from that burgeoning scene having now released 8 studio albums.  Back in 2001 though, they would release their self-titled debut on Aaron and Bryce Dessner’s Brassland Record label.

Featuring drummer Bryan Devendorf on the cover, this is before Bryce had officially joined the band but plays on several tracks.  “Cold Girl Fever” is a catchy acoustic led track with a squiggly synth and a drum that kicks things up before the end. “Beautiful Head” and “The Perfect” are solid college rock songs. Elsewhere the album strays into country influenced sounds on the upbeat “Pay For Me” with a twang in Matt Berninger’s vocals. The laid back “Bitters & Absolut” has fine backing vocals courtesy of Nathalie Jonas and a lovely piano towards the end.  The National’s debut is a well-played album with Berninger still trying to find his voice that would eventually lift the band to far greater heights.


Posted in Album Reviews

The National – I Am Easy To Find (2019)

There is a lot to unpack when reviewing the new album from The National.  I Am Easy To Find is the follow-up to 2017’s Sleep Well Beast and it’s music is featured in short movie from director Mike Mills with several female singers appearing on the album such as Lisa Hannigan and Sharon Van Etten.  Mills is named as a co-producer on the album became a de-facto member of the group during the recording.

First single “You Had Your Soul With You” leads off the album with disorienting drums and electronics before the noise falls away with Gail Anne Dorsey singing, “you have no idea how hard I died when you left”.  “Quiet Light” is a more typical track from the band with just Matt Berninger singing and it’s added orchestration. “Oblivions” deals with the trials and tribulations of marriage with Mina Tindle offering a counterpoint to Berninger’s ruminations. Fourth single “Rylan” has been kicking around for a few years and  is another classic sounding track from the band that adds electronics and is (nearly) anthemic.

It is telling that the title track is one of the best songs but features a lyric Guided By Voices which is the part that sticks though Berninger’s low rumbling voice beneath Kate Stables’ singing “I’m still waiting for you every night with ticker tape” is great.  At 64 minutes, there are several moments that are professionally done yet just flat out dull.  It was recently noted on Steven Hyden’s twitter feed from fans that several of the new songs sound amazing live.  It is easy to imagine tracks like “Where Is Her Head” would light up a crowd.  At times the electronic bits and orchestration of Aaron and Bryce Dessner blunts the excitement and takes away from the excellent drumming of Bryan Devendorf.  While the music is mostly quite beautiful, too often it blends into the background.


Posted in Album Reviews

The National – Sleep Well Beast (2017)

41vvuqcUxVL._AA327_QL65_In Lizzy Goodman’s excellent book, Meet Me in the Bathroom, The National are cast as lesser characters in the NY/Brooklyn scene of the early 2000s. While The Stokes, Interpol and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs hit the ground running, The National took longer to find their footing. But over time, they have risen above their more popular colleagues from that era to become critical darlings and festival favourites. Back in September the National released their seventh studio album, Sleep Well Beast. Their last album, 2013’s Trouble Will Find Me, felt like the end of a trilogy which would make this a new beginning or at least a transitional one.
Second track “Day I Die” has a guitar line that sounds air lifted from The Kings of Leon with an instantly classic chorus. The sung/talked “Walk It Back” has an electronic blip running through it and first single “the System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” replaces the blip with a squiggly guitar line. “Empire Line” starts a string of classic National songs that runs through the great “Guilty Party” and ends with “Carin at the Liquor Store”, that features their usual trick of sounding both melancholy and uplifting at the same time.
Unlike the past few releases, Sleep Well Beast has a few tracks that when listened to individually are a bit dull (“Born to Beg” and “Turtleneck”) but when run right through, are less noticeably cast as missteps. Where the last three albums felt more concise, Sleep Well Beast meanders here and there – a guitar squall here, an electronic flourish there, a few tracks that go on for a few minutes longer than they need to, etc. However, there are enough good moments on every track that makes this another great album from The National.