May 26, 2010


Master crafters: The National come back from the drawing board (DANIEL BROCKMAN, May 25, 2010, Boston Phoenix)

The music that they’ve been cranking out for the past decade reflects this dogged persistence: elegantly crafted rock that is by turns somber and expansive, patient and insistent, bouncingly buoyant when it isn’t pinned to the ground by the gravelly baritone of lead vocalist Matt Berninger. Starting out in late-’90s Cincinnati, the band sprang from the ground with a kind of somber Americana whose leaves began to turn colors when they relocated to New York. There, they played with a quiet perseverance that escalated their profile in slow shifts: first with the overwhelmingly positive reception of 2005’s Alligator, then in 2007 when rapturous acclaim marked the release of Boxer. If the hype never percolated into full-blown hysteria, it at least followed the mood and feel of National songs — most of which build slowly, a steady-yet-perky beat working as a fulcrum on which the escalating drama pivots to an eventual climax.

Devendorf is oddly desultory about the National blueprint. “The whole trajectory of our songs is almost bordering on predictable, you know? Where it’s like a slow burn, and then it peaks, and then it’s over. And you know, why not just have it peak earlier? Or maybe just not peak? I guess I have a different perspective on our music, because to me each song is like a construction project I’m working on.” He may be on to something — but if the National’s music can be considered predictable, it’s in the same way that tennis great Roger Federer just keeps nailing winning serves. “We tend to write and record each track like a jeweler, you know? Like, each song is making a fine necklace or something. Each record, we think, ‘This one we will make looser, all scrappy and rough around the edges’ — but then we just wind up doing the same thing.”

He’s being modest, of course: “the same thing” for the band entails densely woven songs with enough rock-and-roll punch and melodic heft to linger in your craw long after the last notes fade. High Violet has much that could be considered sad-sack melodrama from a lesser band, but in the National’s hands, drowsy downers like “Sorrow” and “Bloodbuzz Ohio” are filled with jittery and tense percussive touches and moments of churchy elegance that elevate them from pop songs to paeans to the power of the human heart.

The National Play Nation's Capital (NPR, June 20, 2007)

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 26, 2010 6:34 AM
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