On their third recording, the National strikes a delicate balance between light and dark, fast and slow, American and British. While their sound is undeniably tinged with darkness, it isn't gloomy or depressing. This impression is mostly due to Matt Berninger's deep baritone, which brings to mind such sensitive, but manly Brit vocalists as Scott Walker and Stuart Staples of the Tindersticks. The National, however, are American. Formed in Brooklyn in 1999, the quintet hails from Cincinatti and doesn't sound much like a New York Band (Interpol, the Strokes, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, etc.). Instead, they could be Midwestern or even Canadian in the way they combine alt-country, chamber-pop, and post-punk angst, like Toronto's Royal City or Montreal's Arcade Fire. Often compared to Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen, and Tom Waits, the National's music is actually faster-paced and has a lighter, almost jaunty touch. In other words: they rock. --Kathleen C. Fennessy
Bring us your tired, bring us your sad and bring us your weary. David Ryan Adams may have crooned that he started his country band because punk rock is too hard to sing, but don't believe a word the man says. Country music is the last great refuge of the song; it's a far better home than Rock 'n' Roll will ever be.
How curious it is though that the true torchbearers of traditional Country come so far from Nashville. Holed up in Ohio, The National must have been raised on all Cash and no Kenny. Saved from a life of big hat music, their music is almost defiant in its lack of polish. Maybe it's the desire for the plaintive and the true that fills every Wilco gig with bar-hugging 30-somethings?
Tales of drying deltas and stolen record collections make an uneasy soundtrack for shopping at Sainsbury's but is the perfect accompaniment for an evening reading Steinbeck.
On their third record Alligator, The National has clearly kept the studio radiators on full blast to maintain the muggy atmosphere. Unfortunately the songs themselves are rather undercooked. The melodies are almost translucent. What draws me in is the slurred drawl of Matt Berninger, who has a touch of the Triffids in his booming baritone. 'I know you put in the hours to keep me in sunglasses' he sings with all the joie de vivre of a pallbearer.
It's been argued by afficionados that within Leonard Cohen's melancholic work is a thick vein of comedy. Any wise man in the autumn of his years must realise and savour life's surreal quirks. Berninger also sounds suitably comfortable as the bemused outsider as he quips 'I'm a perfect piece of ass' on the standout "All The Wine".
This record is aural wallpaper par-excellence, a wash of arpeggios and gently lulling piano. In that it is sweet and utterly inoffensive. There are however relatively few rousing refrains or truly memorable moments. --Chris Hilliard
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