Ohio indie rock band The National have successfully and methodically developed a reputation as being one of the best bands of the last twenty years. The band is made up of Matt Berninger (vocals), Aaron Dessner (guitar, keyboards), Bryce Dessner (guitar), Scott Devendorf (bass), and Bryan Devendorf (drums), and they first came together to make music in 1999.
Since their formation, the band have released seven acclaimed albums: The National (2001); Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers (2003); Alligator (2005); Boxer (2007); High Violet (2010); Trouble Will Find Me (2013); and Sleep Well Beast (2017), all of which have been critically well-received and commercially successful. The process of writing songs for the band usually follows the structure of the music being arranged and composed by the Dessner brothers before Berninger constructs lyrics to fit the music that has been created. Berninger has said that the lyrics he writes have to fit the music, and for this reason he does not spend time writing lyrics away from the studio in a way that other songwriters might, and instead he listens just to the music by the Dessners on repeat and improvises lyrics over them while in the studio.
I first started listening to the music of the band in 2011 and the allure of The National came in their ability to relate the sense of melancholy that we all feel at different times in our life back to the listening audience. Matt Berninger has an ability of creating stories in every song and this, as an accompaniment for the instrumentation composed by the two Dessners, means that every track is a developed narrative and this has the effect of making each feel like a small movie. However, it would be wrong to say that every song by the band is undeviating misery or unhappiness, very often The National are able to frame an unhappy situation in a way that leaves the listener still feeling hopeful for the situation described.
This post will have a look at some of the songs that have had left a lasting impact on me during my listening.
Terrible Love (High Violet, 2010)
Terrible Love is the explosive opening track off the breakout album by the band, High Violet. This atmospheric and driving anthem effectively articulates how it can sometimes be dangerous to absent mindedly let your feelings for someone redirect your actions, despite how strong those feelings might be.
Apartment Story (Boxer, 2007)
My first exposure to this song came via the most unexpected avenue when it was used over the closing credits of an episode from season 3 of the TG4 child drama, Aifric. Apartment Story is a song from the discography of the band that showcases Matt Berninger’s ability to write songs that deal with melancholic subject matter while retaining a sense of hope. The song addresses the feeling of disillusionment with the world that is often experienced by many people and that wish to just stay inside and avoid everything for a while. While this might seem like a dark or defeatist idea, the song closes with the refrain, “We’ll be alright…”, and sometimes that is all we want to hear.
Anyone’s Ghost (High Violet, 2010)
Anyone’s Ghost is the first song by the band that this writer ever heard and it remains my favourite by the indie rock band. The song is a plea about wanting to avoid slipping into the role of being someone who merely exists in the lives of others rather than being an active participant.
Nobody Else Will Be There (Sleep Well Beast, 2017)
Nobody Else Will Be There is the opening track off the most recent album by the band, Sleep Well Beast. The track is a relaxed and touching composition which captures that feeling of being able to tolerate all the various hardships of life so long as you have that one special person and how, often, all you want is to be alone with that person. It is easily one of the standout tracks of 2017.
Mr. November (Alligator, 2005)
Mr. November has always simply just felt like a song about attempting to live you best life and achieve all that you want. Something that we can all relate to.
This Is The Last Time (Trouble Will Find Me, 2013)
This song was the stand out song from the 2013 album, Trouble Will Find Me. The song can be read as an investigation into the complications of being in a relationship that you know might not be entirely healthy but you can not help but repeatedly get sucked back into caring about the other person.
The Perfect Song (The National, 2001)
The third track off the debut LP by the band is a simple investigation of not being able to take advantage of a seemingly perfect romantic situation when given multiple opportunities. A bit too relevant to my own experience.
Few bands provide a more introspective or interesting listening experience than The National as they continue to challenge listeners to analyse their music rather than just listen to it. And personally, I do not want them to stop doing it.
Do you get any different meaning from the tracks that I have mentioned, or would you choose a different selection of songs? Let me know in the comments.