November 1, 2007

The National in black and white

Just like the baklava that we ate at the Starlite Diner in NYC, long after midnight last Thursday . . . there is enough dense, layered, substantial goodness in this post to stick in your ribs for a while. The National is a band of friends from Ohio who now call Brooklyn home, with four albums to their name since 2001.

As I recently wrote to a friend, there is something so bottomless and untouchably good about their music. They release albums to critical acclaim and rapturous blog praise that is (actually) merited; their music has been called “Gothic,” a descriptor that I completely get — all at once you can see the dark cold-granite shadows, the elegantly arched architecture, and the soaring stained glass in one song.

So much of this is 4am music. It’s the end of a beautiful night, where all your pretenses are stripped. The girls are starting to get that smudge of mascara under their eyes, and the shirts that the guys put on so crisply at 8pm are now wrinkled with a button undone. You’re bleary-tired, but your heart is full. It’s that kind of music, the late-night special, flawed but transcendent.

The lyrics read like stark, eviscerating poems:

Bottle eyes, glassy blue
I watch the rain come out of you
Sky is white with the flu
I’m terrified of losing you

(from Cold Girl Fever)

And I really couldn’t tell you why, but I somewhat tragically missed their recent swing through Denver about a month ago. They have been blowing minds all over the States with their live show, and right now they are in the midst of a massive European tour, followed by Australia.

Here’s what they might do to you.

French radio performance 11/17/03
Almost all early material, with a pre-release version of “Lit Up”

Slipping Husband
All the Wine
Cold Girl Fever
Murder Me Rachael
90-Mile Water Wall
Lit Up
Pretty Forever
Cherry Tree
About Today


Same radio station “France Inter” in May 2007, this time sans audience. Almost exclusively material from Boxer.
Start a War
Slow Show
Squalor Victoria
Apartment Story
Racing Like a Pro
You’ve Done It Again, Virginia
Mistaken for Strangers
Fake Empire
About Today


[thx Russ and cwb]

* A recent concert review from Daytrotter, and their June 2007 live session/interview

*Article in the Village Voice from May –
“The National’s Anthems:
If Springsteen is right, the glory days for Brooklyn’s best rock band may lie just ahead”

*More National mp3s here

[photo credit Abbey Drucker, effect-y white sessions version from Sixeyes, who loves The National]

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  • usually love everything you post but this was nothing short of brutal. obvious lyrics and a painful singing voice.

    Pete K — November 2, 2007 @ 1:18 am

  • Pete K, you might regret those words if you listen to their last two albums a few times.

    I didn’t have that ’03 Black Session. Thanks! I’ve got one from ’05 with some amazing Alligator material. I’ll look around later today to see if someone’s got it posted. Otherwise, I’ll upload it.

    Trevor — November 2, 2007 @ 4:55 am

  • This guy’s got them up here.

    Trevor — November 2, 2007 @ 7:27 am

  • I ignored The National for awhile cause it was getting to blog heavy and most of the time it’s just bad music. But after a hundred clap your hands say yeah’s there will be one good band. Thanks for posting the White sessions.

    nick bahula is dead — November 2, 2007 @ 8:56 am

  • this might be love.

    firedande — November 2, 2007 @ 9:48 am

  • Oh YEAH! Didn’t have the Black Session, either! This is so, so good. And Pete K–go buy Alligator! Just give in and do it!

    gorjus — November 2, 2007 @ 10:00 am

  • Saw the National here in Austin during ACL. They played an early set, but had a pretty large crowd for that time of the day. Met Matt Berninger in artists area, really really nice guy.

    “Gothic” is a perfect way to describe the music.

    Huntre — November 2, 2007 @ 12:22 pm

  • I feel your pain. I missed them, despite knowing full well when and where they were playing when they came through San Francisco with St. Vincent. I’ve been beating myself up over it ever since.

    I’ve never heard them called “Gothic” before, but I definitely agree. Those drums! So beautifully dark and amazing!

    John Larsen — November 2, 2007 @ 1:10 pm

  • Wow, Heather. You have really made my Friday afternoon. I have had the second Black Session they did on 04.29.05 for some time now and have always kept my eye out for the first one. And I didn’t even know about this most recent White Session. Thanks for these!

    Seth — November 2, 2007 @ 5:11 pm

  • Well timed post Heather… guess where I’m just back from?!

    lism. — November 2, 2007 @ 5:51 pm

  • about time you gave the National some love, heather! :)

    Chad — November 2, 2007 @ 11:38 pm

  • Fantastical, Heather =)

    I didn’t know those early Black Sessions existed – great. But is anyone else’s About Today a bit skippy/stuffed at for a minute or so? No matter – I’ve got heaps of live versions of that anyways.

    I’m glad Matt stopped his shouting though – once is effective, three times is two too much!

    We shouldn’t mind that Pete K doesn’t get it – I wish the National all the best but Pete K means that I can still see them in a venue where I don’t need binoculars =)

    Graham — November 3, 2007 @ 12:23 am

  • Best. Band. Ever.

    Doug — November 3, 2007 @ 11:17 am

  • Wow. holy Crap. thanks Heather!

    Sean — November 3, 2007 @ 1:58 pm

  • ahhh i am seeing them tonight! thank you so much for these.

    Richard — November 4, 2007 @ 1:29 am

  • This is off topic, but I thought you’d enjoy this:

    Anonymous — November 4, 2007 @ 12:31 pm

  • graham – I’m not hating on the fans who enjoy the band. More power to you. I’m glad these guys are making it and doing well. That doesn’t change the fact that the lyrics are painfully obvious and wow – who’s to say voice lessons are overrated after listening to this? I mean, really.

    Like the music that backs him up tho – kinda catchy. ;)

    Pete K — November 5, 2007 @ 9:56 am

  • **That doesn’t change the fact that the lyrics are painfully obvious and wow – who’s to say voice lessons are overrated after listening to this? I mean, really.

    Like the music that backs him up tho – kinda catchy. ;)**

    To each his own. They’re not really overrated at this point, just justly or unjustly hyped, depending. Anyway, they just added a U.S. show post-world tour. Brooklyn Academy of Music, Feb. 22. Subscription tix available now; individual tix in January.

    Anonymous — November 5, 2007 @ 12:05 pm

  • I am am huge The National fan (addict). All the albums, demos and plenty of live/radio sessions. But, I didn’t have this one, so thank you so much for posting it here.

    Anonymous — November 6, 2007 @ 3:21 pm

  • Thanks. I’ve been collecting a few “rarities” and had no idea this session even existed.
    Lovely post, btw.

    leonor — November 7, 2007 @ 3:09 am

  • They’re terrific live. Caught them in Buffalo last month, one of my concert highlights of 2007, with song after song building and building to this intense crescendo and then they brought out a birthday cake to the lady working their T-shirt table. Thanks lots for the posts.

    Daneman — November 10, 2007 @ 4:14 pm

  • Also a huge fan of The National. Loved the description of their music that your friend wrote. Sums them up perfectly. I’m going to see them on Friday night in Melbourne (only 3 more sleeps!!) and I can’t wait! Am hoping they will be every bit as good as I hear. Fantastic post (not sure how I missed it the first time!).

    Agnes — January 14, 2008 @ 6:10 am

  • Someone on The National Forum wanted the White Sessions, so I pointed them here…I hope that is okay. I didn’t link to the files…only this post.


    Anonymous — December 1, 2008 @ 5:00 pm

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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