Welcome to Durbanboys’ inaugural “Top Twenty Tuesday”, in which an artist or band’s body of work is carefully dissected in order to highlight their greatest songs. This week, we’ll kick things off with one of my favorite bands, Brooklyn indie rock heroes, The National.
20. I Need My Girl (Trouble Will Find Me)
One of The National’s slower numbers, “I Need My Girl” provides a morose combination of somber yet enamoring lyrics, intertwined with Bryce Dessner’s noodling guitar repeating throughout the ballad.
19. Lemonworld (High Violet)
Self-admittedly wordy, Matt Berninger is eager for one’s company, and simultaneously falling apart in the playful “Lemonworld”. He reels off personal reflections a mile a minute, losing his breath (do do do do do do do do do do).
18. Wasp Nest (Cherry Tree)
Cherry Tree songs marked an interesting dichotomy in the band’s songwriting, between the bitterness of Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers and the reformed innocence of Alligator. “Wasp Nest” is a brilliant metaphor for the sneaky, threatening beauty of a woman embodied in the opening number, quietly setting the tone for the rest of the EP.
17. Exile Vilify (Exile Vilify)
In terms of video game music, what we have in here doesn’t necessarily provide an orthodox depiction of 8 bit bloops and blips tailored towards your typical Mario or Zelda adventurer. Instead, “Exile Vilify” is a sophisticated, introspective song crafted for an equally intricate game and story in Portal .
16. Slow Show (Boxer)
Matt Berninger’s ode to the love of his life spans over “dreaming about you for 29 years before I saw you”. In the same light, the song seamlessly transitions from the urgency of the verse/chorus pattern into a wonderfully optimistic outro that has seen its share of refinement and crafting over the years to build one of Boxer’s best tracks.
15. Looking For Astronauts (Alligator)
Of the many personifications of marital qualms, bickering with your spouse is poetry in the case of “Looking For Astronauts”, a concise piece of the band in tight-knit unison, Berninger shining again at the soft forefront. Surely, he has a piece of my medium-sized American heart
14. Racing Like A Pro (Boxer)
After the storm of emotions and post-punk tinged indie numbers on Boxer, the record begins to wind down with mellower fervor, yet the arpeggio piano and quiet acoustic guitar courtesy of the Dessner twins marks a continuing manic internal wave of anxiety for one Matt Berninger, still wrestling through the unmagnificent life of an adult.
13. Graceless (Trouble Will Find Me)
If it wasn’t already apparent in any of his work on Boxer or High Violet, Bryan Devendorf is a shining star for technical and exciting drumming in indie rock. “Graceless” is a man among boys on Trouble Will Find Me, gradually building from refined quarters to the exciting flurry of instrumentation in masses. You know Berninger screams this one live.
12. Bloodbuzz Ohio (High Violet)
The National were formed by way of Cincinnati, Ohio back in the days of Wilco impersonations and self-discovery. Surely, they have evolved into their present greatness and individuality since then, and despite “Bloodbuzz Ohio” providing a wondrous encapsulation of their roots, it’s also a familiar reminder of the suave yet uneasy characteristics that make their frontman so lovable.
11. Lucky You (Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers)
When worse comes to worse, its well stated that The National are capable of writing a traditional love song, complete with infatuated lyricism and charming wit. “Lucky You” concludes an otherwise melancholy depiction of the downfalls of young, stupid love, and with good reason. At the heart of it all, human shortcomings are what make companionship so fulfilling, the ability to overcome and love the incompleteness of another person.
10. Afraid of Everyone (High Violet)
Look at this video. Late night television performances are hardly worth the time of day in winning strangers over to your music. However, all the chips are in place to trump these preconceived notions I personally hold. The production and mixing of the audio isn’t awful, Sufjan Stevens makes a welcome guest appearance on backup vocals, and Matt Berninger manages to capture the same urgency and beauty in his vocal execution here as on record.
9. All Dolled-Up In Straps (Cherry Tree)
Back to my Cherry Tree description from a few songs back, I claimed the purpose of the EP provided a careful transition from totally bitter love ballads to optimistic uncertainty between the two LPs in between. “All Dolled-Up In Straps” shuts that theory down, but still manages to surpass any song by The National up to that moment in terms of songwriting and overall moodiness. “Oh poor sky don’t cry on me. Did somebody break your heart again?”. *CHILLS*
8. Daughters of the Soho Riots (Alligator)
“You were right about the end, it didn’t make a difference”. This used to be my personal favorite song by The National within their entire catalog. The lead guitar once again draws the entire song together, stripped back, raw as ever, yet composed so peacefully that Berninger’s voice is served complimentary as a remedy for any sarcastic quip that had escaped his mouth prior.
7. This is the Last Time (Trouble Will Find Me)
Much like “Slow Show”, “This is the Last Time” exists in two parts, this time around beginning with lighter chord structures, and ending in darker visions of a bleak outlook. The album title appears to cave in on itself here; trouble has found Matt Berninger, he is in danger, and is crying out for answers.
6. Think You Can Wait (Think You Can Wait)
I’m such a sucker for the Dessner’s classical influences on their body of work, and “Think You Can Wait”, though released as a single, stands alone as a highlight for the band. The piano lead on the song drives forward registering a nice compliment to Berninger’s sad baritone intertwined with Sharon Van Etten’s chilly vocals.
5. Apartment Story (Boxer)
For all of you playing along at home, “Apartment Story” is simply a B chord and and E chord alternating back and forth for four minutes. Beyond that, the tired vocal delivery here unleashes an equally restless Matt Berninger charmingly devising scheme after scheme to one up his own personal soundtrack of A+ lyrics. This is a true finger tapper (as evidenced by the music video).
4. Baby, We’ll Be Fine (Alligator)
The long time allusions to bland work life and being a puppet to the man find their roots with 2005’s Alligator. Of the more obvious narratives, “Baby, We’ll Be Fine” is a worthy preface to themes expanded on Boxer, but also uncovers a midlife crisis presently in the works. The protagonist reveals true intent to both please his boss in a professional manner, and also his lover with pent up goofiness.
3. Terrible Love (High Violet)
A bombastic opener in any definition of the word, “Terrible Love” broods in High Violet‘s characteristic wintry production, as it grazes in its “quiet company”. As the track progresses, so does the building instrumentation, an incoming “ocean” of crashing cymbals, fuzzy guitars, and more angelic Sufjan backup vocals.
2. Guest Room (Boxer)
Capping off the apex of Boxer‘s bigger moments, “Guest Room” booms in following the pensive “Start A War”, complete with my favorite vocal performance and guitar work by the band possibly on any recording. Adding to that, the bridge leading into the songs concluding moments bleed black with a struggling relationship turned sour, “where we throw money at each other and cry…oh my”.
1. The Geese of Beverly Road (Alligator)
Don’t worry, I’m ending this on a happy note. Coincidentally enough, “The Geese of Beverly Road” also provides a concise blend of all of the finer points of The National that I love. The song is witty, a little sarcastic, and infinitely quotable. Beyond that, this encapsulation of love and the finer things would make for any magical evening’s soothing close. Totally genius!