Wednesday, October 14, 2009

BIBJ Playlist of the 2000s entry #26: Apartment Story by The National

The National are from Cincinnati, but it seems like they shouldn't be.  On the seem to share much more with New York bands such as Interpol or The Walkmen, though they have a far better sense of pure melody than either of those bands.  Granted, the stylistic similarities may have something to do with The National leaving the Queen City for NYC to get their big break, but their sound on the surface could be dismissed as the lazy pretension of another Brooklyn hipster band, when in fact, I think writing killer hooks just comes naturally to them, and they see no need to make it look harder than it is.

The first song of theirs I heard was 2005's instant classic "Mr. November," which piqued my curiosity for 2007's Boxer - an album that probably ranks in my top 10 or 15 of the decade (and prompted this brilliantly-captioned cover photo from Paste Magazine).  It's an album that feel overwhelmingly comfortable.  Matt Berlinger's sullen, sometimes mumbling Leonard Cohen-style vocals should clash with the pulsating vibrancy of Bryan Devendorf's energetic percussion, but that combination is the key to their success.  Tracks like "Start a War" or "Gospel" are ready made for headphones at 2am, while "Mistaken For Strangers" and "Brainy" shimmer like ready-made festival staples, and opener "Fake Empire" starts with a sole piano, burns gradually without percussion until the halfway point, and eventually builds to a climactic collision of horns. 

"Apartment Story" probably does the best job of summarizing the album within a single track.  It's has a slightly unorthodox presentation, progressing verse / pre-chorus / verse / pre-chorus before the chorus finally debuts 2:30 into the track, first stripped back, then building over itself, repeating the melody that stays with you well past the end of the track.  The presence of the guests in the video mirrors the inner reaction of listening to the track.  You spend the first portion of the song getting a handle on the band, the middle portion tapping along with the rhythm, and the final portion realizing that this is this band makes writing a perfect song seem way too easy.  Even the baby on the dance floor agrees.

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