The National is an American indie rock band from Cincinnati, Ohio, formed in 1999. The band consists of Matt Berninger (vocals), Aaron Dessner (guitar, keyboards), Bryce Dessner (guitar), Scott Devendorf (bass) and Bryan Devendorf (drums).
Founded by Berninger, Aaron Dessner, and Scott and Bryan Devendorf, The National released their self-titled debut album, The National (2001), on Brassland Records, an independent record label founded by Dessner and his twin brother, Bryce Dessner. Bryce, who had assisted in recording the album, soon joined the band, participating as a full member in the recording of its follow-up, Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers (2003).
Leaving behind their day jobs, the National signed with Beggars Banquet Records and released their third studio album, Alligator(2005), to widespread critical acclaim. The band’s fourth and fifth studio albums, Boxer (2007) and High Violet (2010), increased their exposure significantly. In 2013, the band released its sixth studio album, Trouble Will Find Me, which was nominated for Best Alternative Music Album at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards. In 2017 the band released the album Sleep Well Beast.
Four of the band’s albums were included on NME‘s 2013 list of the 500 greatest albums of all time
On May 11, 2017, the single, “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” was released after two days of mysterious teasers. At the same time, a new album was announced, titled Sleep Well Beast, which was released September 8, 2017. The album’s second single, “Guilty Party” was released on June 28, 2017. The band released “Carin at the Liquor Store”, the third single from the album, on August 8, 2017. On August 29, 2017, they released the four single, “Day I Die”.
The band scheduled a worldwide tour in support of the album, which began in September 2017. In August 2017, “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” became the band’s first song to reach number one on a Billboard songs chart, reaching number one on the Adult Alternative Songs chart.
Nobody Else Will Be There—-Coming out of a darkness, the gentle intro to the song carries a heavy and forlorn sound. The vocal enters…the familiar torment of the voice very present. The whispers of gentle music seems to transport you into the deep and melancholy feel of the mood. The double track vocal is exquisite….the whispers of pain stab your heart.
Day I Die—-Delivered with a bit more urgency and Indie like feel, the vocal is just incredible. This reminds me of the best of the bands I loved in the 90’s that no one else had ever heard of. This is a much larger song in scope and sound….the instrumentation more aggressive. The drums…so important to the pace of the track are clear and up front in the mix of the song. This is exquisite.
Walk It Back—-Returning to a bit more of a plodding feel musically, the vocal enters and brings classic Leonard Cohen to my mind as it is spoken/sung all the way through like a personal poem. This is stark and naked….full of mellow feel…that at times is interspersed with a building sound from the band that magically dissolves when the vocal returns. Wonderful.
The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness—-Delivered with brilliant instrumentation, the vocal is deeper in tone…but still as lonely and forlorn as anything you will find on this release. The tones of the guitars seem brighter…and the ever present drums are again forward in the mix of the song. I love the vocal style…switching between a deep incantation to a higher addictive soar on the ‘chorus’. A magical track.
Born To Beg—-Switching to a beautiful piano introduction, the vocal begins almost immediately….sounding as lonely and haunted as ever. The premise of the song…begging for love…is portrayed immaculately well in the vocal delivery and the stark and beautiful music. This is Indie Rock at it;s best…it just does not get any better.
Turtleneck—–I have always said that song placement is everything on a record…it adds to the cohesiveness and keeps the listener from becoming bored. This track….much more aggressive and noisy is right in place…breaking up the intense mood of the record and giving you some respite from the ‘darkness’ The guitars are louder…aggressive and the vocal actually has a magical angry edge to it. Perfect.
Empire Line—-Low guitar hums and the ever present drums create a dark and solemn feel to this track as it develops. The vocal enters…..sounding morose…but somehow brighter than in earlier songs. This is a quiet introspective affair…but solid in the musicianship….the lyrics cause me to sit back and ponder meanings…but this band, as usual, is elusive in a firm song meaning.
I’ll Still Destroy You—-Right from the onset, this has an entirely different musical feel. The vocal enters and again is an almost spoken word affair…but the music never quite quits….an almost quasi-dance track in the backdrop. This is remarkable….obviously the quaint synth line is necessary here…the surprise for me is the quite proper chorus that has an addictive quality that is hard to forget. This is fantastic….one of my favorite tracks.
Guilty Party—-A staccato synth line in the back drop….entwined with a somber dark feel that overlaps everything allows for another journey into the mind of what must be a true genius. The voice is remarkable….never veering from what we expect…no histrionics….no tone changes…but somehow comforting and familiar. The entire thing is like visiting with an old friend.
Carin At The Liquor Store—-Wonderful, right from the onset. The introduction piano is just beautiful…..almost taking my breath away. The song opens up a bit by the second bar…the vocal seeming to move to the back of the music…sounding almost faint and resolute. this is beautifully constructed and delivered. Another favorite track of mine.
Dark Side Of The Gym—-Again, although stark and beautiful, the track has a hopeful feel to me. Not nearly as dense and down trodden for me, this almost sparkles to my ears. The promise to stay in love means love has been found…and that is a positive sound to me. This is remarkable. Truly a fantastic band.
Sleep Well Beast—-Rounding out the release with a return to the synth sound of a few earlier tracks, the vocal enters and just reeks of Leonard Cohen and the magical way he told stories in his vocal delivery. This is brilliant….the song….the longest on the release, is an ode to all of the bands heroes I’m sure. I wish I could understand all of the brilliance that is in the lyrics from this band….but perhaps it is all left better to interpretation. This is magical….this release is yet another triumph.
****3/4 out of 5