I have only two emotions, careful fear and dead devotion
Matt Berninger has a voice that transcends upon space and time. His deep baritones turn into passionate cries of love and pain and sorrow, and when combined with intricate guitar riffs or smooth chords, it can sometimes make listening to The National an out of body experience. I started listening to The National from newest material to oldest, something I really hate to do, but unfortunately happened anyways. I came across their newest album, Trouble Will Find Me, during the summer of last year and I completely fell in love. I fell in love with Matt Berninger’s brooding voice right off the bat, and it was as if it was pulling me in for more.
The National is composed of lead singer and frontman Matt Berninger and two sets of brothers: twins Aaron and Bryce Dessner, and brothers Bryan and Scott Devendorf. Their band relationship is tight and amicable, making their performances incredibly special to watch. I am mostly familiar with The National’s last three studio albums, so that is what I will talk about in this post. The National’s fourth album released in 2007, titled Boxer, was a step and a leap from their third, Alligator, and therefore given very positive reviews. While The National’s first three albums were giddy and loose, this one was the start of a brand new image, one of dark imagery and ironic luxury. This was seen in the first track off the album, titled “Fake Empire.” It had some aspects of their earlier sounds, but seemed…different. They were more controlled and focused. The lyrics better, the band more tightly wound together. The rest of Boxer only added to this new found feeling of class and distinction with songs like the almost love tale turned loss “Apartment Story” and the masterpiece “Mistaken for Strangers” – a song that would ultimately be the title of The National’s documentary, due out soon.
Next came their fifth album, High Violet, which came out in 2010. This album amplified the newer darker image that the band conveyed in Boxer, and therefore contained more melancholic and lyrical songs. Granted, The National was never one to portray the image of sunshine and happiness, so this isn’t really that surprising, but it was still quite different from the days when they were still relatively young and still naive. From the strumming of the guitar in “Sorrow” to the triumphant piano chimes and violin interludes in “England,” High Violet proved to be enticing and well constructed. My favorite from this album would have to be the noire-chic melody “Conversation 16.” This song still remains on my exhaustive list of favorites simply because of the amazing, well written lyrics (Live on coffee and flowers/Try not to worry what the weather will be/I figured out what we’re missing/I tell you miserable things after you are asleep) and simple, uncomplicated musical structure. Matt Berninger’s beautiful voice seems to almost float and hang in the air, and the drum beats and synth seem to move it where it needs to go in the most amazing way. It’s dark and relentless, yet relatable, which is why I love it so much. Overall, High Violet took a new path, one of distinction, and it accurately portrays the National as a highly poetic band that was just starting to get settled in.
Finally, The National introduced their newest album, Trouble Will Find Me, in 2013. This is the one National album I know the best by far, and the album that changed me. I was completely sold when I heard the poetic, mesmerizing compostion “Don’t Swallow the Cap,” in which I can hear every gorgeous falter and meticulous tone in Matt Berninger’s voice. Not only that, but this song contains my most favorite lines of lyrics of any National song. When I heard the words “I have only two emotions, careful fear and dead devotion” come out of his mouth, something went through me that I can’t explain. This is the most accurate description of my (and I guess his) personality that I had ever seen and it chilled me to the bone in the best possible way. I bought the album right away and it’s definitely one of the best purchases that I have ever made. It contains gems like “Fireproof” and “Graceless,” both of which are genius. When it comes to deep, dark love songs, look no further than “I Need My Girl,” a song propelled by intricate guitar riffs and graceful lyrics that no doubt are personal and heartfelt. “Pink Rabbits” gives a new aspect to the bunch, and it can be described as a jazzy, yet refined melody. Trouble Will Find Me is absolutely brilliant in dealing with the inevitability of dread and regret, and it definitely deserved all the praise it received.
The National will always have a special place in my heart as being one of the most real, relatable bands out there. They create music that makes you think and feel real things, and they exude this brilliant attitude while doing so. I can’t wait to see what they do next.