2006: I am a freshman at Edinboro University. Having grown up with dial-up, arriving at Edinboro introduced me to the world of high-speed internet. I was HOOKED. Naturally I began to abuse internet radio first and foremost. I was exposed to a lot of great music that year. Beirut, Final Fantasy, Joanna Newsom, M.I.A.
I remember the first time I heard the National. It was a rainy gross-ass Edinboro day, which is about 360 days out of the year. The song was "All the Wine."
Whoa! I remember thinking. What a cocky asshole.
"I'm a birthday candle in a circle of black girls," Matt spits in the song, like he is spitting right on you, the listener.
??? What does that even mean? Do you know how many circles of black girls around cupcakes I have imagined to this song?
"I am a perfect piece of ass." Of course it's a parody, but the light's not quite on in my developing brain.
I was appalled! And rather bored. I listened to the song on and off, but nothing changed. It didn't leave an indent on me.
2008: My sister and her boyfriend constantly see the National. I say to them "I think they're boring." They're seeing them and Arcade Fire and the Killers and Coldplay. My Rilo Kiley-biased reaction: "YAWN."
2009: The girl I'm in love with at the time and I start having a cold falling-out. In retrospect, it seems silly, but at the time it was earth-shattering. I remember sitting in my oversized desk chair listening to "Start a War" on repeat. It's one of the few National songs, I think. Then, there is "Fake Empire," which I fall in love with in a short period of time.
2011: Working at Erie Insurance, I play "Baby We'll Be Fine" between audiobooks. I want to get out of my life; I'm convinced IT'S THE END. And I'm a loser and I'm a failure, etc. Etc. I imagine myself coming home to am imaginary partner with the lyrics of this song running through my head.
Baby, come over, I need entertaining
I had a stilted, pretending day
Lay me down and say something pretty
Lay me back down where I wanted to stay
Just say something perfect, something I can steal
Say "Look at me
Baby, we'll be fine
All we gotta do is be brave and be kind"
I pull off your jeans and you spill jack and coke in my collar
I melt like a witch and scream.
I move to New York. My boyfriend and I connect over the National. He says Matt is mumbling a lot but I've never really noticed the mumbling.
I remember slithering drunk through the streets of Borough Park (Brooklyn) and seeing the Citibank signs, hearing "Mistaken for Strangers" in my head. For two months, I'm working deep in Brooklyn and taking the Q or B to work. I go from Union Square (Manhattan) across the Brooklyn Bridge every sunny morning. I remember seeing the cascade of buildings much higher than me and constant amazement! I don't know if native New Yorkers always get that sensation, but I swear to God I never was bored of seeing those buildings.
I used to listen to "England" a lot and it hit me how far away I was from home.
2012: After a nervous breakdown, I move back to Erie. Then I recover. Then I'm in Phoenix, working at something different entirely. Months go by and I don't listen to the National so much. Then, the loneliest summer of my life is upon me and I am, on weekends, falling asleep (usually somewhat buzzed) to the National's library on Spotify. I don't have a real concept of time at this point and each week pulls in and out to the next. I'm starved for human contact and eventually depression settles in. While "England" has not quite the same ring to it as it once did, "It Never Happened" and "Green Gloves" become constants.
I have one memory of falling asleep to the National and dreaming about "Green Gloves," this being early November. I had a very vivid dream I was at a party in Park Slope - an engagement party. The band was performing; I was walking around observing people. There was the engaged girl, who was a mess in some bedroom because she was too insecure about getting married, didn't think she deserved the love, so forth. I got the impression the song was meant to calm her down- although I'm not sure where that interpretation came about, thanks subconscious- then I woke up.
I meet my girlfriend shortly thereafter. "Slow Show" takes a whole new meaning for me, because for the first time ever I'm in real love and that song- to me, is real love.
You know I dreamed about you
for twenty-nine years before I saw you
You know I dreamed about you
I missed you for
for twenty-nine years.
I think I've been dreaming about her for a long time. At this point, I'm sold on the National.
2013: This review.
I don't like to deem the National "dad rock." What does that label mean? Whatever; to me dad rock is REO Speedwagon. Some reviewer called them "men's magazine rock" which seems better to me. The band members themselves seem to wear clothes that came off the pages of GQ or Esquire, really.
And I also hesitate to call them "boring" because while their sound isn't the most lively thing in the world, when it clicks for you it just clicks. I think you have to be at that point in your life where you can just appreciate more mellow, pensive music that's not quite in Bon Iver territory. I mean, I felt they were boring for a while but I've obviously changed my tune.
Now is "Trouble Will Find Me" their best album to date? I don't think so, but as all National albums are- it's a grower, sure. I got the album in the beginning of May and since then it's lodged itself carefully under my skin. There are some tracks I don't care for- and they don't seem to chart far off their established path, but I'm cool with that. It's a solid effort and I believe it was worth the three-year wait. Some more considerations:
"I Should Live In Salt"- In the beginning, this one drags. It's a little slow from the opening note, and you fear it won't take any shape. But it does! "I should live in salt for leaving you behind." Oh regret. You're like blood in the mouth. Rating: B+
"Demons"- This seems to be the cousin to "Afraid of Everyone," except the paranoia seems to be more introverted and results in nothing but acceptance. If Matt does mumbles, this song surely showcases it. Also- it's weirdly hilarious in the National kind of way. "When I walk into a room, I do not light it up. Fuck." Rating: A
"Don't Swallow the Cap"- One of the few genuinely upbeat tracks on "Trouble." It feels hopeful and, as we know, hope feels good. Rating: A
"Fireproof"- The first real heartbreak of the album is found here. "You keep a lot of secrets, and I keep none. I wish I could go back and keep some." The song seems to be more or less the audio equivalent of the look on a heartbroken person's face. Also, the "Needle in the Hay" lyric might be an Elliott Smith reference. Rating: A
"Sea of Love"- The other upbeat song on the album. And the reason for the album's name. I wonder who this song is about. Joe Biden? Rating: A (not much variance here)
"Heavenfaced"- A very precious song that's kind of hard to listen to. At least for me, this song hurts a lot. Rating: A+
"This Is the Last Time"- "When I lift you up, you feel a hundred times yourself." My favorite track. Gorgeous and soft, while picking up pace at the end. It sounds very much like a canon National song. Also, is that Annie Clark in the background? I sure hope so. Rating: A++++++++++++
"Graceless"- A faster song with unimpressive lyrics. Except the part toward the end where Matt chants "there's a science to walking through England." Actually, the end is amazing and redeems the song as a whole. It's not the best, but it's worth hearing. Rating: B
"Slipped"- I hated this at first, but it's actually gorgeous and vulnerable. You know I die for vulnerable things. Just listen to the whole thing. I see this in my mind rather clearly: You keep obsessing on the one pivotal point in your life where you feel like you fucked it up. And you keep staying there in your mind, torturing yourself. All right: This song hurts me, too. "I can't blame you for losing your mind for a little while; so did I." Rating: A
"I Need My Girl"- A girl or a boy or whoever. The song is dismal, slow, could be seen as boring. It is kind of boring to be real with you. But I love the lyrics to this. Plus, there are many moments in my life which I know would be better around my girl. A message which reads "hey" could easily just as mean "Every moment would be better with you in it." Rating: B+
p.s. we all have things we can't laugh about in front of our families. p.p.s. what's a cannonballer?
"Humiliation"- This one sounds like the National covering new wave ("got baby to pound me"). It's really something- can't think of another National song that sounds like it. Rating: A
"Pink Rabbits"- A song about losing someone and then thinking you have your shit together until they show up again, only to leave once more. And then wondering, well, what they are thinking about. When they are drinking "Pink Rabbits" listening to "Bona Drag?" This one crushes me really. Rating: A
p.s. I can't even type the lyrics to this one. It crushes me (again) it truly does.
"Hard to Find"- A bittersweet close to the album. The instrumentals here sound like Explosions in the Sky. Rating: A-
I don't think the National are for everyone, but I think you need to get it- something- to appreciate their subtle beauty. This is probably by far my favorite release of 2013. The band has said in interviews it's the first album in which they embraced their chemistry and thus, it's more cohesive. I feel this is true to a degree, but they sounded fine to me before. "You can all just kiss off into the air."