Friday, November 25, 2005

more catch-up: The National

The National, Alligator - "I'll put on an argyle sweater and put on a smile," sings Matt Derninger on "Baby, We'll Be Fine," and that one line sums up why I have trouble taking the National seriously. See, because he has a deep voice and he's singing gravely about covering up his unhappiness with fashionable dress and false cheer. Oh boy. I love my bass-vocal balladeers as much as the next guy (especially if they're the Tindersticks), but there's only so much singing of disappointing nights of drinking and unrewarding sex before I start snickering. (cf. the Tindersticks again, who know that a leavening duet or two always helps.) By the time we get to penultimate track "City Middle" and Derninger says "I feel just like Tennessee Williams," it's hard to keep a straight face. Dude could just quit drinking and get a job, you know.

The National are, however, an accomplished band, the rare unit in which every player seems to be listening to the other and thinking carefully about where the rhythms and melodic lines go. These are well-arranged songs, even without the occasional strings and woodwinds, denser than standard indie-rock. Opening duo "Secret Meeting" and "Karen" are particularly rousing, as is closer "Mr. November." Here Derninger pulls back a bit on the unhappiness: "I wouldn't go out alone into America" is a clever line, succinctly stating the New Yorker's habitual fear of fly-over country. The National sounds better when you're not paying close attention and can groove on the gravitas: close listening reveals an accomplished band that could stand to cheer the fuck up on occasion. They probably keep Livejournals too.

4 Comments:

Blogger Luis said...

I don't really know where you got the whole "unhappiness and drinking and unrewarding sex" vibe from, actually. "All the Wine" is almost an anthem of self-confidence (unless you're thinking it's ironic) and quite a "feel-good" song. And "City Middle" feels hopeful with lines like "I've got five hundred in twenties and I've got a ton of great ideas, I'm really worked up!". And "Val Jester" (the best in the album for me) is a romantic duet and etc.

I dunno, it just feels like gritty romanticism rather than the downbeat self-pity you're talking about. And Matt is just an awesome writer, with evocative lines and all etc. Whatever dude. Flaming Lips rocks!

9:17 AM  
Blogger Vadim said...

Random responses: I've never really associated the words "I'm a perfect piece of ass" with self-confidence, but maybe this is why I'm not good at the fine art of bar-hopping. It's weird, but the way you wrote out the "City Middle" lyrics made me imagine David Byrne singing them. "I'm all worked up! Electricity" etc. Also, your most fave is my least. "Gritty romanticism" is a bummer for me too, since I'm a sordid pragmatist; I still can't take them that seriously. But they're seriously rockin' sometimes. (I listened to my iPod cut version of Alligator today, and it was pretty kind of awesome.

The Flaming Lips are indeed live in concert. Best live show ever, really. Hope you didn't bomb your Brazilian SATs though.

9:47 PM  
Blogger Vadim said...

or, uh, "awesome" in concert. I gotta start proof-reading more carefully. Not to mention the unclosed parantheses...

9:48 PM  
Blogger Luis said...

You know when Wayne gets in that air bubble and rolls over the audience for a couple of minutes, and when he gets back on stage, "Race for the Prize" immediately starts playing? Awesome. And people dressed up in animal costumes dancing in the stage. Dear god.

And no, I did not bomb on the SATs. Pretty close, but no.

5:45 AM  

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