March 21, 2007

The National : Alligator & Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers

Thanks to Chromewaves.net
[Photo from Chromewaves.net]

The National are a New York band without all the trappings and baggage that seem to go along with that moniker. They are primarily another indie rock band, but their albums enjoy a mix between the raucous and the reminiscent. The sound is a far cry from the sharp riffs and post-punk beats of many of their contemporaries, opting for a more melodic, layered and ultimately more satisfying approach. They come out with their fourth album, Boxer, later on this year, but it’s definitely worth catching up with some of their older material.

Alligator was the last album they released, and most people’s (including mine) entry point. They toured along with Clap You Hands Say Yeah which was a double edged sword in terms of exposure as most people appeared for the support act and left before the National even took to the stage. Which is undoubtably a stupid thing to do, because Alligator is a fantastic record. Singer, Matt Berninger, dishes out lines somewhere between sarcasm and dead seriousness about various objects of love. The song All The Wine is a brilliant piece of narrative, built over chiming U2 guitars until a final release with Berninger crooning, ‘Nothing can touch us, my love’. Karen is another fantastic tale, a lover trying to explain his actions over rolling piano and lines like ‘It’s a common fetish, for a doting man, to ballerina on the coffee table, cock in hand’, with nary a smirk or a wink of the eye. As I said at the start, they can get explosive at times as well, Abel, Lit Up and the powerful closer Mr. November. The latter crashing around as Berninger sing-shouts ‘I won’t fuck us over, I’m Mr. November’ throughout the chorus. The slower, less immediate songs help the album as a whole to grow on you. The more introspective songs such as Daughters of the Soho Riots and City Middle may seem inherently skippable at first, but soon provide a more interesting contrast of pace and mood.

Thanks to Lowdownbeat from the Allthewine Forums
[Photo from the AllTheWine Forum]

I picked up Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers a little later, in the Marketplace of Warwick Uni for a rather tasty £7. It begins with a much darker tone with Cardinal Song, but gets brighter towards the end of the album with songs like the playful Fashion Coat. Yet there’s also a slight country tone apparent, with slide guitar appearing several times and songs like It Never Happened, Trophy Wife and 90-Mile Water Wall displaying that typical alt-country strum and beat. Murder Me Rachel and Available are pretty much most indicative of where the National sound was heading, the former builds up into screeching violins and doesn’t stop, only barely dissolving into muffled shouts and drum rolls after a telling line, ‘Tomorrow won’t be pretty.’ It’s overall not quite as coherent as Alligator, the style of music is more varied and the production sometimes isn’t executed with the same diligence as the stronger songs.

Listen to these, and buy the albums in preparation for Boxer, which is out on May 21st.

From Alligator (2005)
The National – Karen MP3 Expired
The National – All The Wine MP3 Expired
The National – Mr. November MP3 Expired
[Buy] *Highly Recommended*

From Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers (2003)
The National – Slipping Husband MP3 Expired
The National – 90-Mile Water Wall MP3 Expired
The National – Murder Me Rachel MP3 Expired
[Buy]

[The National Homepage] [The National MySpace]


- 8 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

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  1. forcetengale29

    I love this band. Discovered them awhile ago through a chance hearing of “Mr. November” and was quite taken by the lyrics. Now I think I own everything they’ve recorded. I hope I get to see them when they tour (they will tour to support their CD, right?)

    21 Mar 2007, 12:21

  2. Christy

    I am so psyched about their new album! This post was great, it got me even more excited!

    23 Mar 2007, 04:32

  3. andy

    Great band! They’re playing London Astoria 22nd May then some European dates… full tour isn’t gonna be till later on in the year :( There’s more mp3’s on their website www.americanmary.com

    23 Mar 2007, 05:02

  4. Man, this review is fucking crazy.
    You mention all the shit songs as highlights, and some highlights as “skippable”. “City Middle” is probably the second best song on the album. Anyone who can sit through “Karen” without asking themselves why theyv’e wasted 3 or 4 minutes of their life doesn’t know good music. I can tell by the way you mention that song and that particular line from that song that you’ve been spending a lot of time reading other reviews by other ignoramus’ instead of listening to the music properly. I havn’t read a review of this album yet that hasn’t mentioned that line, overlooking the fact that it’s clearly the worst song on the album. “Abel”, again, always gets a mention, but not for the correct reason, which wouyld be that its not good enough for the album, but because it’s the rock-out one. Fuck that. And how can one not single out “Baby, We’ll be Fine” as a highlight?

    Oh yeah, “It never happened” is the only worthwhile song on Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers. Here’s hoping they’re not a one album band.

    16 Apr 2007, 22:17

  5. Hey, I said City Middle seemed skippable at first. For me, it wasn’t instantly engaging as some of the more direct hits like Abel, Mr November which I’m sure you can agree is understandable. But yeh, it has come around to be one of my favourites, along with Baby, We’ll Be Fine but again I guess I just posted the ones that caught me first Saying that Karen is clearly the worst song on the album I find is just as fucking crazy as saying any other is the best. And All The Wine is clearly the best.

    And have you grabbed Fake Empire yet from the new album (it is the first free taster of Boxer)? What do you think of that?

    17 Apr 2007, 01:42

  6. Also, cheers for making the comment. It’s about time someone told me I was wrong, because it gets a bit boring otherwise. I did however go and listen to Karen again, and I still really like it. And I still really like that line when it comes around, regardless of what anyone else has had to say about it before. Yeh, I do read a lot of reviews, and probably come across as a nodding dog when it comes to writing my own, but I’m working on it…

    17 Apr 2007, 03:00

  7. Nice one la, well taken.
    I’m listening to the new album now. it’s pretty decent so far. It’s even more subdued, really.
    My thanks to Andy. I’m so out of touch with this gig business, hadn’t checked their website for ages. Not sold out, and a good venue. Banga!

    18 Apr 2007, 19:28

  8. Micah

    Slow Show from Boxer just hits the spot. “Made a mistake in my life today…want to hurry home to you…” This is a great song with tons of remorse in the vocals and a beautiful underlying sound. This band just sounds like they have it together, percussion is on point with the right emphasis, piano is sincere in the background and offsets his mature-sounding voice. I wasn’t a huge fan of Mr. November and a few others I heard on the radio but once I got a few albums I really fell in love with this band. Put on the music and sit back and fall into the feeling because they know how to paint a soundscape.

    08 Oct 2007, 16:43


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