The above video is one of the prettiest songs by the indie rock band The National, a band that has quickly and mercilessly usurped U2 and Modest Mouse as my favorite band that is still producing material. The song above is not about the town Santa Clara…it’s actually about some girl named Clara, and is pretty much brimming with the sort of pained reminiscence and somberness that characterizes their music, and which makes it so damn good.
I first got into The National about a year and a half ago, when I just happened to catch the video for “Bloodbuzz Ohio” on a music video station. Since I’ve always been a fan of baritone rock singers like Jim Morrison and Ian Curtis of Joy Division, it wasn’t any shock that I enjoyed what I heard from Matt Berninger’s droning vocals almost immediately. I downloaded a few of their more popular albums and became a fan. A casual fan, able to name you a few of their songs that I liked the best, mostly off of their brilliant 2010 release, High Violet.
Then I saw them play live at Coachella and it was over. The obsession began. You’d never believe that this band is a great live act from their somewhat gloomy studio stuff, but the haunting songs and Berninger’s resonant vocals, punctuated by fits of wild screaming, make The National one of the most memorable concert experiences ever. I saw them again in San Francisco in December, this time playing a full set, and by this point in time I was such a full blown devotee that the show was more like a religious experience. The two friends that I dragged to the concert were probably a tad terrified of me by the time the final song ended.
The National’s songs strike a particular chord because the members were essentially my age now, approaching 30, when they began writing a lot of their better songs. Much of the subject matter in their songs detail exactly the kinds of things people my age tend to brood over: opportunities wasted, girls we miss, friendships fucked up, and reservations about where our life is going. You know, fun stuff like that! However, as glum as it may seem, the music is always punctuated by a sense of hope and an undercurrent of subtle beauty. In a modern music scene full of mindless Top 40 dreck, The National stands out as a thought-provoking and poignant group for those who prefer a mature alternative sound.
Top 5 favorite songs by The National: