New Favorite: The National

So, indie guilt confession (I was out with friends about a week ago and they termed my predicament “indie guilt”):  I’m just now becoming a huge fan of The National–just as their new record becomes a mainstay in the Billboard 200 Top 40.  Although I had given their earlier records a few spins, it wasn’t until Boxer was released in 2007 that I really decided that I even liked the group—now, just as the group has apparently moved to the top of the heap of the indie rock world with High Violet, I’ve finally become completely and hopelessly enamored with them.

So put your indie guilt aside because, even if you have checked these guys out before, you should check them out again. They seem to be getting better and better with each album.   Their earlier efforts still seem a little slow and drab to me, but somewhere around Alligator and especially Boxer, they latched onto this mesmerizing, vaguely post-punk sound that incorporates keyboard and orchestral flourishes into huge, sweepingly cinematic arrangements that managed to be both experimental and highly catchy.  High Violet is a natural, albeit amazing, continuation of their sonic development.  The two sets of brothers responsible for all the music, Aaron & Bryce Dessner and Scott & Bryan Devendorf, seem to almost effortlessly churn out this music, although they apparently have a tough and acrimonious recording process.  Lead singer Matt Berninger’s cryptic poetry and deeper-than-deep baritone vocals have always had a powerful, Ian Curtis-like presence over the music, but over the last few records it feels like he began to explore new levels of subtlety and texture, and now feels like a major, irreplaceable presence in the music swirling around him.  All together, they are making some of the most gripping music coming out of what we call “indie rock” in 2010.

Picking out individual songs almost seems besides the point for a record this good, but if I had to I’d single out the opening cut “Terrible Love” and the song that was released in advance of the record, “Bloodbuzz Ohio.”  Both mp3s will be available, for a limited time, later today.


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