The National :: My Favorite Artists/Bands
All the Wine was my first time with The National. The song, All the Wine, was introduced to me by a lover at the time, and friend all the time, who sent me a YouTube video link of it. My first impression, besides initial confusion (the YouTube video had a still picture of a James Brown Christmas album through the entire song), was one of enthralled awe for the singer’s voice. There was something unique about it, calm, yet edgy and dark, soothing, yet disarming all at once. I played the song over and over, albeit some of that was due to sentiment and that flush of attraction when first in love, but even after we split and time went by, I kept returning to it, playing again.
My next go around with The National came about when I stumbled on the song Mistaken For Strangers. The song tied somewhat back to the lover who had introduced the first song to me, as this song came around right after we had parted ways. I was in the grips of heartbreak and misery, and there was something in this song, loneliness, desperation, and isolation, that fit with how I was feeling. Misery loves company, and a good soundtrack, too.
Over the last few years I got to know the rest of The National’s offerings, and have fallen hard for their music. It is still the lead singer’s voice that slays me. Matt Berninger’s voice, and his songwriting, are something that haunt me and delight me and seduce me, and have me returning time and time again to the songs and albums. I still hold a soft spot for All the Wine, but I have a slew of other favorites now, too. They hit me deep and find their way on playlists and mixes, and into my own full album listening time. I love that more people I know are discovering them, too, and are realizing why they are one of my favorite bands.
The National was formed in Cincinnati, Ohio, United States, in 1999, and they are currently based in Brooklyn. The band’s lyrics are written and sung by Matt Berninger, a baritone. The band’s music is composed and performed by Aaron Dessner (guitar and keyboard), Bryce Dessner (guitar), Scott Devendorf (bass) and Bryan Devendorf (drums). The band has recorded six studio albums; the most recent, Trouble Will Find Me, was released in May 2013 and was nominated in the 2014 Grammys for Best Alternative Album.
Aaron and Bryce Dessner write and develop the music which Matt Berninger then responds to, building lyrics off of the music Aaron and Bryce have written. Matt has said that the melody and the rhythm come first and then words and imagery will start to stick to a melody.
In 1991, Matt Berninger and Scott Devendorf met while attending the University of Cincinnati’s DAAP college of graphic design program, where they also met Mike Brewer, Casey Reas and Jeff Salem. Together, the five of them formed the lo-fi garage band Nancy, named after Berninger’s mother, aspiring to sound like Pavement. The band was together for five years, but only released one album, Ruther 3429, on Wife Records before breaking up after Berninger, Devendorf, Reas and Salem moved to Brooklyn.
Bryan, Bryce and Aaron were childhood friends who played in several bands together over the years. When their last effort, Project Nim, broke up in 1998, they joined Matt and Scott in Brooklyn via the Devendorf relationship.
When the band was formed in 1999, it was called The National, although the domain name of the band’s website is americanmary.com because, according to Matt Berninger in an interview with Sixeyes, “[i]t’s a song off our first record. We never thought of changing the (website) name, although we should have.”
Several of the members continued to work day jobs while performing free Sunday night shows regularly at the highly regarded NYC Lower East Side venue, Luna Lounge, throughout the early years, including being involved in New York’s dot-com boom in the late 1990’s.
Their first album The National was eventually released in 2001 on Brassland Records, a label founded by band members Aaron and Bryce Dessner, along with their friend Alec Hanley Bemis.
The National’s second album Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers, released in 2003, was the band’s first collaboration with record producers, Paul Heck and Peter Katis, who would later also produce the band’s critically acclaimed albums, Alligator and Boxer. After the release of the album, renowned DJ Bernard Lenoir invited them to perform on his Black Sessions twice on France Inter. Publications such as Uncut and the Chicago Tribune named it an album of the year.
In 2004, they released the Cherry Tree EP which included live favorite About Today, as well as All the Wine, which would appear on their next record. The release of the EP garnered further success and landed them on a successful tour with The Walkmen.
Also in 2004, the band quit their day jobs and signed to a new label, Beggars Banquet Records, because the process of running their own label was becoming “too complicated.”
The National’s first album on Beggars Banquet, Alligator, was released in 2005. The album was met with much critical acclaim and featured highly in “Album of the Year” charts in the Los Angeles Times, Insound, Uncut, and many other publications. The album allowed the band increased exposure. NME and Pitchfork Media ranked Alligator as a top album of the 2000’s.
Alligator brought the band increased attendance at concerts, including sold-out shows at The Troubadour in Los Angeles and Webster Hall in New York. They also played at numerous festivals including the 2006 Pitchfork Music Festival, Reading and Leeds Festivals, Pukkelpop, and more.
Alligator went on to sell over 200,000 copies worldwide.
Their fourth album, Boxer, was released on May 22, 2007, and also received widespread critical praise. The album features contributions from various guest artists, including Sufjan Stevens and Doveman (a.k.a. Thomas Bartlett).
In the summer of 2008, along with Modest Mouse, they opened for R.E.M. on the promotional tour for the R.E.M. album Accelerate. That summer they also played many festivals in North America and Europe, including Coachella, Roskilde, Sasquatch, Glastonbury, Haldern Pop, Rock Werchter, Optimus Alive!, Oxegen, Benicàssim, Lowlands, O2 Wireless, T in the Park, All Points West, and Lollapalooza.
In May 2008, the band released their first feature-length documentary film entitled A Skin, a Night on DVD. The film, directed by filmmaker Vincent Moon, documents the lives of the band surrounding the recording of Boxer and just before a show at the London venue Koko. Along with the release of the DVD was a CD collection of B-sides and rarities titled The Virginia EP.
On February 17, 2009, a compilation album titled Dark Was the Night was produced by Aaron and Bryce Dessner and released by 4AD (the band’s new label after Beggars Banquet Records merged into 4AD). The two-disc, 31-track compilation was released for the benefit of the Red Hot Organization, and featured a new song by The National and Nico Muhly titled So Far Around the Bend. In the same year, The National collaborated with St. Vincent to contribute a cover of Crooked Fingers’ Sleep All Summer to the Merge Records compilation Score! 20 Years of Merge Records: The Covers!.
The National contributed a track to Ciao My Shining Star: The Songs of Mark Mulcahy in September 2009, an album in support of the former Polaris frontman, who lost his wife. They covered the Polaris track Ashamed of the Story I Told, from their album Music from The Adventures of Pete & Pete.
The album High Violet was released on May 11, 2010 in the US to widespread critical acclaim.[ The album also debuted with first week sales topping charts across the world, ranking # 3 in the US, # 2 in Canada, # 5 in the United Kingdom, and # 3 in Portugal, among others.
The National recorded The Rains of Castamere for the Game of Thrones season 2 episode “Blackwater“.
They also recorded a cover of the song I’ll See You in My Dreams for the HBO TV series Boardwalk Empire, and a cover of the Thanksgiving Song from the Fox TV series Bob’s Burgers.
On December 9, 2012, they debuted three new songs I Should Live in Salt, Humiliation, and Graceless at the All Tomorrow’s Parties event in Camber Sands, United Kingdom.
Trouble Will Find Me was released via 4AD Records on May 21, 2013 in the US to widespread critical acclaim. The album debuted with first week sales topping charts across the world, ranking # 3 in the US, Canada and the UK, among others. In its first week the album sold 74,722 copies in the US and has since sold 250,000 copies in the US alone. Following the release, the band embarked on a world tour in support of the album. Trouble Will Find Me earned a Best Alternative Album nomination in the 2014 Grammys.
On February 28, 2013, they announced the upcoming release of a documentary chronicling the lead singer’s brother Tom Berninger’s journey of touring with the band. The film, titled Mistaken for Strangers, premiered at New York City’s Tribeca Film Festival on April 17. Mistaken for Strangers has been described as “a funny, eccentric and finally deeply poignant depiction of art, family, self-sabotage and the prickly intricacies of brotherly love.” The film recently had its theatrical release in theaters across the United States and Europe.
My Top 10 Favorite The National Songs:
1. Mistaken for Strangers
from the album, Boxer
“Make up something to believe in your heart of hearts,
so you have something to wear on your sleeve of sleeves.”
2. All the Wine (live)
from the albums, Aligator and Cherry Tree EP
“I carry the dollhouse safe on my shoulders,
through the black city,
nightlights are on in the corners,
and everyone’s sleeping upstairs,
all safe and sound.”
3. I Need My Girl
from the album, Trouble Will Find Me
“I know I was a lot of things,
but I am good,
I am grounded.”
4. Fake Empire
from the album, Boxer
“Turn the light out say goodnight,
no thinking for a little while,
let’s not try to figure out everything at once.
It’s hard to keep track of you falling through the sky;
we’re half awake in a fake empire.”
5. Slow Show (live)
from the album, Boxer
“I wanna hurry home to you,
put on a slow, dumb show for you,
and crack you up.”
6. It Never Happened
from the album, Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers
“Lover put me in your beautiful bed,
and cover me.”
7. I Should Live in Salt
from the album, Trouble Will Find Me
“Don’t make me read your mind,
you should know me better than that.”
8. Conversation 16
from the album, High Violet
“We belong in a movie,
try to hold it together ’til our friends are gone.
We should swim in a fountain,
do not want to disappoint anyone.”
9. Anyone’s Ghost
from the album, High Violet
“Didn’t want to be your ghost.”
10. Pay for Me
from the album, Self-titled
“I can’t get used to your new name.”