The National

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Buddy Holly – Listen To Me (YSI)

15. Working For A Nuclear Free CityJojo Burger Tempest

This album more or less blew my mind when I first heard it. Its never-ending switches of musical styles and references (see: Thom Yorke, The Beatles, The Flaming Lips, Weezer, Sebastien Tellier and some or all of the Warp artists) its insane overlength and the fact that its second disc is one long track are all things that would usually upset me about an album, but somehow seem entirely natural in the grand scheme of Jojo Burger Tempest. I could ramble on for many paragraphs, or point you to my frankly overwhelmed This Is Fake DIY review, but, in fact, the best way to describe it is perhaps visually – see that album artwork up there? That off-kilter, patchwork aesthetic is entirely informative of the sound of this album. At some point I’d like to make a little chart of how each song sounds and write them down in sequence, but for now I’ll just say this: it’s fucking nuts. Listen to it.

Working For A Nuclear Free City – Silent Tunes (YSI)

14. WoodpigeonDie Stadt Muzikanten

Perhaps less so than the last album, but still very much in the bracket of “diverse”, Mark Hamilton and co.’s third album is a wonderful exercise in how to craft an album just perfectly. Starting with pretty saloon piano pop, the album never stops moving about stylistically, but stays entirely familiar throughout. Traditional Canadian indie fare becomes Belle & Sebastian-indebted twee becomes sparse folk becomes shimmering love song and you never lose track. It might be hard to describe in a forthright, definitively descriptive way (are you getting that?), but the album itself never stops making beautiful, beautiful sense.

Woodpigeon – Empty-Hall Sing-Along (YSI)

13. SpoonTransference

The fact that this album was far less polished than their previous output was commented on endlessly at the time of its release but even now, months later, that’s still the most important facet of this album for me. The fact that many of the tracks here were just demos  means you listen far harder to what the band is doing, not what they’re trying to do. It’s a fairly nebulous distinction, but one that gains weight as you listen – every untreated aspect just plays what it’s meant to, not what production dictates it should. That’s not to say there aren’t more treated tracks, but Transference feels honest in the way it just sits there, rhythmic, throbbing, occasionally ferocious and displays all it has with no pretence (unlike this review).

Spoon – The Mystery Zone (YSI)

12. Bombay Bicycle ClubFlaws

Ridiculously youthful, musically talented and now multi-genred? Bombay Bicycle Club have always struck me as a bunch of precocious bastards, but their move into lilting folk-pop territory bloody proved it. Jack Steadman’s quavering tones sound just as at home fronting this mix of older tracks remade and newer ones purposely created in an acoustic mould and their occasionally more complex guitar arrangements sound wonderful when a banjo’s added to the mix. You just have to feel a little sorry for drummer Suren – he doesn’t get much of a look-in really.

Bombay Bicycle Club – There Are Many Ways (YSI)

11. The NationalHigh Violet

I wrote a ridiculous treatise about this album when it was released, claiming that it emulated Gustav Freytag’s Dramatic Arc, the way all traditionally told stories progress. I can’t claim that it entirely holds water as an idea, but there is certainly something enticingly dramatic about High Violet – the stories of beautifully told emotion complemented by music that could soundtrack any number of fictional scenes. I defy anyone not to feel moved by the distant shout of ‘It takes an ocean not to break‘ as ‘Terrible Love’ forces its way into a blustery climax. And that’s just the first track. But if carefully-constructed, ideas-driven rock is not your thing, fear not! At the centre of the album lies the year’s best triumvirate of songs – ‘Afraid of Everyone’, ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’ and ‘Lemonworld’ are the beating heart of this work, embodying the sound and sentiments articulated throughout. It’s startlingly intimate, loud and quiet in equal measures and was just the thing to finally get me off my arse and listen to this band.

The National – England (YSI)

Tomorrow I’m starting a journey to Glastonbury. The day after Glastonbury I embark on a transatlantic tour the likes of which Kerouac could never have dreamed of (well, Las Vegas and Florida). As such, this blog may have to take a little downtime as I doubt I’ll have extended access to a computer for a little over a month. So I’m going to post tracks by lots of the artists I’m looking forward to seeing next weekend as a sort of temporary swansong(s). Until next we meet.

The xx – Fantasy (YSI)
Snoop Dogg – Drop It Like It’s Hot (YSI)
Mos Def – Auditorium feat. Slick Rick (YSI)
Stevie Wonder – Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours (YSI)
The National – Terrible Love (YSI)
Mountain Man – How’m I Doin’ (YSI)
Wild Beasts – The Devil’s Crayon (YSI)
Midlake – Roscoe (YSI)
Tom Williams & The Boat – Wouldn’t Women Be Sweet (YSI)
Meursault – One Day This’ll All Be Fields (YSI)

Before the mega-hype surrounding High Violet, I’d never quite got around to listening to a National song, let alone an album before. There’s only so many times you can hear ‘epic’, ‘drumming’ and ‘baritone’ without it all becoming a bit of a haze, to be honest. However, when offered the chance to grab a copy, I thought I owed it to myself to take a listen to them. I’ll have a review of the whole album up soon on For Folk’s Sake, but for now I’d just like to talk about three particular songs that make up the centre of the album because, frankly, they’re just brilliant.

‘Afraid of Everyone’ utilises the skills of one Sufjan Stevens to create a song that, with its gentle backing vocals and measured buildup should by all rights be quite irritating, but as quick cuts of shivering guitar creep in and the beat builds it becomes a far more nervous affair. You’ll probably have heard ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’ by now, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll love it for its sense of drama and the sheer irrepressability of the drumbeat (turns out all that talk of drumming I ignored was right actually). Finishing this triumverate is ‘Lemonworld’, a stately little number that draws you in and doesn’t let you go until the final notes – Matt Berninger’s droning, hypnotic tones can make even ‘doo doo doo’ sound like an emotional lyric.

I don’t think it’s a perfect album, there are moments where it falls a little flat, but as a centrepiece, these three tracks are a wonderful little journey in themselves – tension, release and perfect calm. Now I just have to hope they can match that on their older records.

The National – Afraid of Everyone (YSI)
The National – Lemonworld (YSI)

PS. Bloodbuzz Ohio was a free download so I imagine you can find it just about anywhere you care to look on the internet by now.