They jump right out with “Fake Empire”, a slow burning song that starts with an infectious piano line and the opening lyric of “Stay out super late tonight/Picking apples, making pies/Put a little something in our lemonade/And take it with us/We’re half awake in a fake empire”, delivered in full Leonard Cohen mode. It isn’t too much longer before more instruments make their way into the song, and you find yourself bopping your head and grooving to the music, which is now in full swing, complete with some wicked horns (compliments of The Clogs’ Padma Newsome).
For a second you may be confused. “Is this the new Interpol?” That’s a perfectly normal thought, and it may take a couple of listens to get over this feeling completely. I can tell you right now what is throwing you off: it’s the voice of Matt Berninger, who sounds an awful lot like Paul Banks (who sounds an awful lot like Ian Curtis). Both have the baritone voice often associated with new-wave groups like Duran Duran or Depeche Mode. But The National are not a new-wave group, so don’t let the voice throw you off.
This is especially evident on the very next song, “Mistaken for Strangers”, which starts off with guitars that sound like they came directly from Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation. By the time the nasty-huge drums kick in, your mind should be out of the new-wave gutter.
One of the things that really stands out in this album is the instrumentation. You may not recognize it at first, but give it a couple of listens. There are all sorts of things going on at any given time. A wandering guitar line. A string section playing lightly (or perhaps not-so-lightly) in the background. A keyboard/piano line that you don’t hear until the 4th time through. All of this, of course, is on top of the thundering drums of Bryan Devendorf, the apparent centerpiece of this album the more you listen to it.
Don’t misunderstand me, though. This album isn’t entirely about rockers and thunder: there is an underlying beauty to the entire album, which becomes more obvious with each listen.
It is, of course, more obvious with some songs than with others. “Green Gloves”, “Racing Like a Pro”, and “Gospel” are prime examples that The National don’t have to play hard to make a song huge.
Most importantly, this is, without a doubt, a cohesive album. There are, of course, some tracks that stand taller than others, but that is inevitable. But, by the time everything is said and done, this is one of the most cohesive albums I’ve heard in a long time. There is not a single flaw on this album. Not one.
There are shades of Interpol, Joy Division, Bloc Party, and others on this album. But, at the end of the day, The National are their own band.
Thank God for that.
Essential Tracks: “Fake Empire”, “Racing Like a Pro”, “Gospel”
Favorite Tracks: “Green Gloves”, “Slow Show”, “Apartment Story”
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