Monday, November 24, 2014

Song of the Day: The National - This Is the Last Time (2013)

When I first started doing these posts about a month ago, it wasn't my intention for them to skew so frequently towards decades old music, so I'm going to write about some of my favorite recent stuff for the next several days, starting with probably my favorite band of "Right Now." I guess the way I define that as which band that is currently in the midst of their absolute prime do I love the most? Answer: The National

I first heard these guys in 2007, but they had been around for several years at that point. Their '07 album, The Boxer, was what exposed me to them, and it's a fantastic work. Their sound on that album (which apparently was a bit of a departure from their previous work, but is how they've sounded ever since) was equal parts U2, Leonard Cohen, Joy Division, and Nick Cave, and I'd never quite heard anything like it. Then, in 2010, they released High Violet, which is a strong contender for best album of the last five years. (Kanye's Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is the main competition.) High Violet is one of those rare albums that within the first few weeks of listening to it, I sort of knew it would be an important album to me for my whole life. 

About a year ago they released their latest album, Trouble Will Find Me, and this is my favorite song on it. Last summer was a really difficult time in my personal life, and this is the song that become my anthem during that period. Towards the end of the song, a sort of second bridge comes in with singer Matt Berninger's beautiful baritone chanting "I won't be vacant anymore!" Let's just say those words and sonic moments really spoke to me. 

There are a lot of things I love about this band, but two main things immediately hit me every time I hear them. First, they write beautiful melodies and always seem to know exactly when those melodies are best served by somber piano or driving guitar/drums. They straddle that old Pixies "loud-quiet-loud" cliche better than any band has in a long time. And second, Berninger's voice, which cuts to the emotional core of the tracks, and his words which seem simultaneously impenetrable and universal. Like Jeff Tweedy, Berninger's lyrics don't prompt me to do too much analysis of them, but I always feel like I understand them on an implicit level that defies any tangible grasping. One of the best examples is from this very song, when Berninger sings "You're love is such a swamp." Those words really hit me last summer, and they still do. The great songs have a way of doing that.

This was originally written and posted on Facebook on June 14, 2014

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