National Appeal
by Tola Brennan


I got home today feeling very somber. It was late
afternoon and I was alone in the house. The lights were
off and I felt like leaving them that way. I was in the kind
of mood where I just wanted to rock back and forth on
an armchair listening to music. I found myself wishing I
had something excessively Baroque to put on. I wanted
to feel alienated and poetic. I wanted to enjoy being
morose. Coincidentally, there’s a band that fulfills that
yearning quite sublimely. They are called The National.

Now just because I think that their tone is most suited to
solitary loneliness does not mean that their music is not
appropriate for a variety of moods and circumstances. I
always want to be listening to The National. In the
morning they sound beautiful. On Sunday afternoons
they make the whole day seem worthwhile. Their sound
fills up that expansive emptiness that makes you wonder
why you aren’t filled with a cacophony of gloom. Late at
night they fill the smallest crevices with a grand and
meaningful melodic scene. The National isn’t party
music. It’s better. It’s rainy day music.

Allow me to be briefly biographical. The National is a
Brooklyn based band formed in 1999. They released their
first two albums on their own record label. These were
entitled The National (2001) and Sad Songs for Dirty
Lovers (2003). Then, in 2005 they joined Beggars
Banquet Records and released two more albums. The
first being Alligator (2005) which provided the band with
increased exposure. And the latter being Boxer (2007)
which was met with widespread critical acclaim. On a
related note, The National is best listened to in reverse
chronological order.

Most recently The National has toured with R.E.M. and
Modest Mouse. I managed to see The National during
that tour and (pardon the cliche) I was blown away.
They seem to be playing most of Boxer with a smattering
of songs from Alligator (namely Mr. November which is
one of their most exciting songs- and it is indeed
supremely exciting in reality). The National is a quite
capable live band and there is certainly no discrepancy in
terms of quality in any sense of the word (as is the case
with many bands who aren’t rhythmically and sonically  
enraged).

Returning to the realm of subjectivity, I know we all get
sick of conventional harmony, some faster than others.
But it is my contention that when conventional harmony
is done at the peak of excellence, the result is often the
most satisfying sonic experience to be had. The National
is such a band. Their sound can most simply be
described with the adjective ‘grand’. The singer Matt
Berninger has a remarkable deep baritone and writes
lyrics which are deceptively unconventional, the
drumming is reminiscent of a marching band turned
dense and sundry and the other musical parts usually
consist of simple but seemly violin, piano, horns and
guitar.

In combination, the result is the kind of music that will
make me smile (in both the joyous and despondent
variety- depending on the circumstance) wherever I am.
The National is a crucial supplement to life.
The New York Optimist
January 2009