Sneaking in a quick ‘extra’ and the reason behind the selection of Ohio’s The National – my local record shop highlighted the upcoming release of the band’s ninth album at pretty much the same moment as I caught ears on their latest, ‘Tropic Morning News’:
Aside from tapping my foot and digging the tune, it got me thinking. See, The National are one of those bands with which I have a strange relationship. Though I can’t recall how I first heard of them, I was really into Alligator when it came out back in 2005 (and since I recently added it to the collection on vinyl it’s had plenty of spins) and jumped on Boxer and High Violet as they followed but somehow that interest slipped.
Whether it was perceived over-exposure as critics rushed to heap praise or was the fact there was so much to listen to and so little time? Who knows but the end result was that for the next few albums I didn’t jump on them straight away BUT did end up hearing enough to get hold of them and fall in love with them and wonder why the fuck I didn’t get hold of them sooner – what was stopping me? Both Trouble Will Find Me and Sleep Well Beast are bloody brilliant and while I Am Easy To Find is perhaps a tad bloated (3 lps) the augmenting of vocalist Matt Berninger’s voice with an array of guest female singers is brilliant way to keep an evolution in sound. They plough the occasionally-anthemic indie rock terrain with a more thoughtful, literate approach with lyrics that are often at odds with the upbeat charge of the music delivered through one of genre’s more distinctive voices while managing to adjust their formula at the right moments to prevent it becoming stale.
So this time I’ve decided to stop the weird cycle and have pre-ordered First To Pages of Frankenstein* and thought this a good opportunity to highlight five of my preferred cuts from the band’s back catalogue.
This is where I came in, on album number three: Alligator. I haven’t ventured further back really but it’s oft-mentioned that this is where the band really found ‘their’ style / sound. It’s a brilliant album without a track I skip but I like the sharp short hit of ‘Lit Up.’
Mistaken For Strangers
Boxer took everything from Alligator and dialled it up a notch. While ‘Fake Empire’ is probably the most well-known thanks to Obama’s use of the tune, ‘Mistaken For Strangers’ has that brooding urgency that always gets my attention.
Whether it was down to new label 4AD’s promotion, the band’s continued up tick with the music press or riding the attention use in a successful Presidential campaign… but High Violet did big numbers for the band and seemed to be their break-out moment.
Don’t Swallow The Cap
I feel like Trouble Will Find Me gets somewhat overlooked – following on from the attention of High Violet perhaps something more immediate and ‘hit stacked’ was expected but the album is one that rewards repeated listens, is a more studied and stately affair than previous but is well worth the time.
The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness
A shift in sound accompanied Sleep Well Beast. The band’s trademark sonic atmosphere augmented with new elements, faster beats and squalls of noise that add texture and momentum and make it one of their finest.
*not the last two which contain the postscript where the monster says “It’s ok if people call me ‘Frankenstein’ I really don’t mind, ‘Frankenstein’s Monster’ is a tad demeaning anyway”