The National

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The National

I’ll be off to see The National at Birmingham’s Irish Centre with my old friend Nicky on Tuesday. It’ll be the second time I’ll see them this year

[they played at the bloody marvellous Latitude Festival in July], and their albums have been on heavy rotation on my monolithic Kubrick-esque stereo for two years or so. Yes, I still call them “albums”. How quaint.

If you’re unfamiliar with their music, then I strongly suggest you take urgent steps to remedy this. I started with Alligator in 2005 and then acquired their follow-up Boxer this year. I’m a simple-minded buffoon, so I tend to approach these things in a linear, chronological manner. You can mix it up if you like.

I’ve described their music in an email to a friend this evening as “New York melancholia shot through with wry, laconic humour “, but that doesn’t really do them justice. So I’ll let someone else do them justice for me:

“Gothic in its detailing but jaunty in its execution, Boxer is something far richer than orch-pop (translation: rock ‘n’ roll topped with violins). Rather, the band find ways to combine the expressive depth of composed music with the urgency of pop. It’s a sound built with guitar, bass, piano and drums and festooned with brass, woodwinds, backing vocals, strings, and organs. A product of dedicated labor, happenstance, and alchemical reactions, the music reveals new layers with each successive listen.

“There are nods toward a host of iconic Americans—F. Scott Fitzgerald, Raymond Carver, composer Steve Reich, Bob Dylan and the Band, Jonathan Ames (especially Wake Up, Sir!), even a bit of Grateful Dead. There are sketchy suggestions of Leonard Cohen, Grace Paley, Nick Cave, John Ashbery, The Smiths and Tom Waits. But The National’s pedigree is becoming harder and harder to trace. They may remind you of distinguished ancestors but, now, The National sound like no one so much as themselves: a meditative rumble that starts in the heart, gets caught in the brain, and resonates outward.”

I nicked that from their MySpace page as I’m feeling lazy. It happens.


About the Author:

My name is Tom Lennon and I'm a freelance writer who specialises in humour at the geekier end of the pop culture spectrum. I'm based in Birmingham, UK, and my work has recently appeared in BuzzFeed and Time Out.


  1. Rol Hirst November 6, 2007 at 11:15 am

    I love ’em, though Boxer didn’t grab me as much as their previous albums. Nothing beats ‘Murder Me, Rachael’ though.

  2. tom lennon November 7, 2007 at 6:56 am

    Boxer didn’t grab me as instantly as, say, Alligator but it’s been more of a slow-burn grower for me. If that’s the expression.

    They were effing awesome, by the way…

  3. Rol Hirst November 8, 2007 at 7:50 am

    I’ve seen them live myself, and I think they might even work better that way. There’s an energy to some of the songs live that they just don’t capture on record.

  4. tom lennon November 10, 2007 at 4:43 pm

    Indeed they do. Even on record their songs often go from quiet to loud, but they go so much louder live. Matt Berninger’s vocals on Abel – which was pretty shouty in its original form – was incandescent and positively larynx-defying. If I was a throat specialist, I’d be professionally concerned.

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