Category Archives: the national

top ten albums of 2010

by Gordon

 

10. CONGRATULATIONS by mgmt

 

Flash Delirium [LISTEN]

While not as altogether catchy as their breakthrough Oracular Spectacular, it’s every bit as weird, and ultimately, as daring. Though a letdown on certain levels, you have to give it to the band for their genre-bending approach.

FULL REVIEW

 

9. INFINITE ARMS by band of horses

On My Way Back Home [LISTEN]

It doesn’t knock you out on first listen. Infinite Arms grows on you, reminding you of what makes Band of Horses a great band, be it the soaring vocals of Ben Bridwell, their undeniable melodies, or, less tangibly, the subtle way the music takes you to a quiet place just between childhood and last night.

FULL REVIEW

 

8. ODD BLOOD by yeasayer

O.N.E. [LISTEN]

Part Animal Collective, part Of Montreal, brand new and yet somehow reminiscent of an era that’s passed, it’s all come to be what is unmistakably Yeasayer, and I welcomed a heavy dose this year.

FULL REVIEW

 

7. THIS IS HAPPENING by lcd soundsystem

I Can Change [LISTEN]

This universally acclaimed third and purportedly final album from Murphy serves as an upbeat celebration of the end of a decade, while still encapsulating the sometimes introverted thoughtfulness that’s stood out in the artist’s previous work as well. Let’s hope he has more to say in the years to come.

FULL REVIEW

 

6. CONTRA by vampire weekend

Giving Up The Gun [LISTEN]

Proving that the earlier success of these four young New York City lads was no fluke, Contra serves up another dose of of African pop-meets-Western culture, but this time with even more boldness and purpose in direction.

FULL REVIEW

 

5. THE AGE OF ADZ by sufjan stevens

I Walked [LISTEN]

Do I wish Stevens, who for almost a decade has remained one of the most inspiring and sometimes life-changing artists for my generation, had combined the best of Adz and his recent EP All Delighted People to create an even better new release? Yes. But Adz is still undeniably an amazing record, grander in scale, scope and sound than anything yet from the quiet young Michigan native with a banjo.

4. GO by jónsi

Boy Lilikoi [LISTEN]

It’s Sigur Rós on Four Loko. With tighter compositions, fuller soundscapes, and just as much imagination as ever, you  need only close your eyes and imagine the other members to ease out of the feeling you’re committing adultery.

FULL REVIEW

 

3. TEEN DREAM by beach house

Walk In The Park [LISTEN]

It’s hard to believe how simple a song can be, or a band for that matter, and still make music magic. Amidst a broad pallette of pace and emotion, Legrand’s vocals leave the strongest aftertaste…soulful, confident, and even in a pop context, always a bit haunting.

FULL REVIEW

 

2. HIGH VIOLET by the national

Afraid Of Everyone [LISTEN]

It’s hard not giving this one the top spot. This is the third consecutive album from the band to be music gold, their instrumental style and lyrical intricasies too complex to merely describe on pen and paper. Singer Matt Berninger and the rest of The National continue to fill a void in contemporary music and culture, one that most of us, sadly, wouldn’t have even known even existed.

FULL REVIEW

 

1. THE SUBURBS by arcade fire

We Used To Wait [LISTEN]

I’m not surpised Arcade Fire would put out the best album of any year. I’m just surprised there’s a band as consistently good as Arcade Fire. Not every song may do it for you. When do they all? But the album’s strength is in its cohesive theme of the modern day, good and bad. And for modern music, it’s simply great.

FULL REVIEW

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HIGH VIOLET by the national

by Gordon

 

Pitchfork: 8.7          Rolling Stone: 3.5/5          Metacritic: 85          Spin: 4/5

 

Released: May 2010
Tracklisting:
  1. Terrible Love
  2. Sorrow
  3. Anyone’s Ghost
  4. Little Faith
  5. Afraid of Everyone [LISTEN]

  6. Bloodbuzz Ohio
  7. Lemonworld
  8. Runaway
  9. Conversation 16
  10. England
  11. Vnaderlyle Crybaby Geeks

   For the band’s most recent, High Violet, to have fared merely comparable with their previous two, Alligator  and Boxer, would for myself and most fans have constituted as a great success and more than welcome addition to their increasingly standout discography. And what the album does, apart from merely compare, is build and grow off of their now distinct and confident sound and push it further into the realm of wiser yet somehow more daring. Whether your first listen seeks a taste of the familiar or a glimpse at something new, it’s impossible to end up disappointed.

   “Terrible Love” introduces the album with a masterful melody of reverberation, courtesy of the Dessner brothers. It continues into a thundering pile-up of sound, drummer Bryan Devendorf characteristically churning an artful science out of the near chaos of his patterns. Berninger’s final lines resonate amidst a collective backdrop of choral “Oohs” before the opener roars into a crashing finale. Live video here (look out for their friend and sometimes collaborator Sufjan Stevens too).

   Perhaps the most structurally simple, “Anyone’s Ghost”, in keeping with a longheld National staple, is with a curious delivery that borders between optimistic and pessimistic. Berninger’s reflections are personal and claustrophobic, both lyrically and audibly, as if we’re hearing them inside our own head. “Afraid Of Everyone” is, above all, haunting, and despite what the title suggests, not without a tone that’s confident and domineering, full of self-aware introspection. Though strumming-driven, it’s the band’s prevailing, ghost-like background “Oohs” that again stand out. As Berninger eventually belts, “I don’t have the drugs to sort it out”, one feels led to agree, regardless of how. And in a frenzy of guitar and drums the song comes to an end.

   First single “Bloodbuzz Ohio” sess Berninger melancholic in his delivery despite the overall drive and pace of the music, which is now more noticably piano-led. “I still owe money to the money to the money I owe/ The floors are falling out from everybody I know”. The video (below), which Berninger’s wife helped direct, features the lead singer as an awkward and solo city figure.

   The short, simple and beautiful “Lemonworld” lives off of measured electric guitar strums, rolling tom-tom percussion, and Berninger’s baritone vocals, accented by a string of “doo-doo-doo-doo-doos” throughout the song. Though most of the band’s source material draws from the experience of close-to-home, tangible city life, Berninger decides to take a quick jab at the more outward state of the world: “I gave my heart to the army/ The only sentimental thing I could think of/ I’ve cousins and cousins somewhere overseas/ But it’ll take a better war to kill a college man like me”.

   “Runaway” is the soft and slow ballad of High Violet, the one you let your mom listen to first to see how she likes the band. Guitar plucking and deep strings crescendo into a passionate, memorial-like hymn. “Conversation 16” enters in stark contrast, a fast and thought-hungry tune that feeds on the singer’s troubles. But only Matt Berninger could make the words “I was afraid I’d eat your brains/ ‘Cause I’m evil” sound so unthreatening.

   In “England” I hear The National taking on new territory, not entirely, but at just the right pace and direction. Berninger sings of summer and rain, rivers and oceans, angels and cathedrals, all atop the artful placement of a series of beautiful piano chords. All this is accented by strings, guitar, percussion, as well as hints of trumpet that perfectly give rise to the feelings evoked by the country for which the song is named. Its closing minute and a half could not get any fuller.

   It’s old. It’s new. It’s slow. It’s fast. It’s sad. It’s happy. It’s shy. It’s aggressive. In short, High Violet, though just short of perfect itself, is still a perfect follow-up for The National, one of the few bands today that has gained much-deserved recognition by going the old-fashioned way: making amazing music.

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ALLIGATOR by the national

by Sean

Pitchfork: 7.9            Rolling Stone: 3/5            Metacritic: 81            Spin: N/A

 

Released: April 2005
Tracklisting:
  1. Secret Meeting
  2. Karen
  3. Lit Up
  4. Looking for Astronauts
  5. Daughters of the SoHo Riots
  6. Baby, We’ll Be Fine
  7. Friend of Mine
  8. Val Jester
  9. All The Wine [LISTEN]

  10. Abel
  11. The Geese of Beverly Road
  12. City Middle
  13. Mr. November

   The National first started to get national recognition with the release of 2007’s Boxer.  I was introduced to them with Alligator, one of the best unknown records of 2005. It took awhile for me to get used to Matt Berninger’s scruffy baritone vocals along with melodies lacking quick-hitting hooks, but I can honestly say that after listening to these two releases The National is one of the best bands in America today.

   I knew that I wanted to write about the National but I needed to be in a certain frame of mind to do so . With a few shots of whiskey and a somewhat obstructed view of nighttime city streets, I think I am there. Alligator offers a variety of songs that can appeal to almost any mood possible. My preference is dark, cold, and buzzed, but don’t let that deter you from enjoying at any time. Berninger’s often quirky lyrics deal with lost friendships, lost love, and yearning to keep those relationships from spiralling into distant memories. He is apologetic, paranoid, and (maybe sarcastically) narcissistic. This may just make Alligator sound like another sad bastard record, but in actuality, it is not.

   Alligator begins with a simultaneous strike of a snare and cymbal crash followed by the simple yet unmistakable riff of “Secret Meeting”. Berninger sings, “I think this place is full of spies/I think they’re on to me/Didn’t anybody tell you how to gracefully disappear in a room?… And now I’m sorry I’ve missed you/I had a secret meeting in the basement of my brain”. The first track climaxes with Berninger singing, “It went the dull and wicked ordinary way” while his bandmates chant an indecipherable phrase over and over, which Berninger himself has said he would never reveal. Some have suggested “Just drop the dice and roll it” or “Never draw an ace and fold it”. Either of these would suggest a lyrical dichotomy that many could relate to. The carpe diem mindset, or lack thereof, oftentimes ends in a “dull and wicked ordinary way” no matter how the cards are played.

   (I have now switched from whiskey to gin. I’m right back to where I was two years ago in College Park, MD, when I fell in love with this band. This is good. Well…maybe not.)

   Alligator’s centerpiece and perhaps one of The National’s best songs is “All the Wine”. This song is a perfect example of how beautiful and melodic this band can sound with two interwoven electric guitars and a simple but unorthodox drumbeat. The aforementioned narcissistic lyrics are on full display in this song. It opens, “I’m put together beautifully/big wet bottle in my fist, big wet rose in my teeth/I’m a perfect piece of ass, like every Californian”, and continues with lines like, “I’m a birthday candle in a circle of black girls” and “I’m so sorry but the motorcade can go around me this time”. Berninger is not afraid to dive into sensitive subjects to get his points across, but after reading a few of his interviews it’s easy to see that these aren’t his actual views of himself or the band. However, even as he puts himself on top of the world he is still concerned about those he cares about, singing, “All safe and sound, I won’t let the psychos around…I’m in a state where nothing can touch us, my love”. Because, shit, what’s the fun in feeling power and perfection if it can’t be used to share with and help those we love?

   I’d like to shortly address some of the critics that call The National “soft” or “dull” by calling attention to the songs “Abel” and “Mr. November”. I’m not usually the type that gets off by hearing grown men scream in songs but I’ll be damned if Matt Berninger screaming “My mind’s not RIGHT!” in “Abel”, and “I won’t fuck us over/I’m Mr. November” doesn’t make me a little moist in the pants. This band can rock the fuck out with the best of them when they want, and if you’re one of these critics, at least give these two songs a listen.

   I could probably write a twenty page paper on this album, describing the brilliance of every song, but that would bore 99% of the readers, and I’m not sure I have enough patience (or liquor) to do that. If you’ve only heard a few songs or brushed off The National due to the (actually not so) “monotone” vocals of Matt Berninger, or some other lame excuse, I beg you to give Alligator at least a few more complete listens. I promise you will connect with much more then you initially expected, both musically and emotionally. This album, and this band, is the real deal.

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