AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #243 : THE NATIONAL (2)

It was back in November 2016 that I pulled together a 10-song ICA featuring The National.

It was a tough task; at the time, the band had released six albums and I decided to go only with tracks from the third, fourth and fifth albums as I felt that was the era when they were truly at the top of their game and nobody came close to matching their quality and consistency over the five-year period concerned.

There were a handful of very positive responses which delighted me. As always, there were suggestions about songs that didn’t make the cut while some folk felt there should have been room for some earlier material along with songs from Trouble Will Find Me, the album released in 2013, the most recent at the time I pulled together the ICA.

The National have since released Sleep Well Best (2017) and I Am Easy To Find (2019), a situation which more than enables me to have a stab at Volume 2. This can also be taken in lieu of me wanting to talk positively about the most recent album and the fact that their live show, outdoors at the Kelvingrove Bandstand in Glasgow during an unrelenting downpour, was another highlight of the gigs in 2019.

None of the tracks on the previous ICA – Secret Meeting, Mistaken For Strangers, Apartment Story, Conversation 16, Abel, Daughters of the Soho Riots, Slow Show, Bloodbuzz Ohio, Start a War, and Mr November – are eligible today.

Side A

1. Fake Empire (from Boxer, 2007)

The difficulty last time round was there were just too many tracks that I wanted to include but couldn’t.  Fake Empire, from 2007’s Boxer went head-to-head with Secret Meeting from 2005’s Alligator for the right to be Track 1 on Side A, and whoever lost out wouldn’t get in as that was the only place they would have fitted.  In the end, Secret Meeting got the nod for the ICA only on account of it being followed immediately by Mistaken for Strangers and I didn’t want to open with the first two songs off Boxer.

Fake Empire gets in this time round with no doubt at all.  If you hadn’t by chance ever heard The National before this song, it offers a perfect introduction of intriguing and inventive music, topped by a voice that melts hearts.

2. Don’t Swallow The Cap (from Trouble Will Find Me, 2013)

Last time round I said that songs from Trouble Will Find Me hadn’t made the cut as I felt the album was just too much like the band going through the motions somewhat – it just didn’t match the really high standards of what had come before.

The gig last summer, and believe me when I say that the rain was of biblical proportions that somehow just added to the occasion, brought home the fact that some of the songs on the album were as good as any throughout their entire career.  Don’t Swallow The Cap came very early in the set, just at the point when the rain got so hard that if the band had been any less than stellar, it would have been tempting to go home.  They had opened with four tracks from the new album and just as everyone was wondering if it was going to be a show in which all the new material was played before old favourites were dusted down…..this gave everyone such a huge lift and it got as loud a cheer as anything else until…..

3. I Need My Girl (from Trouble Will Find Me, 2013)

….a few songs later when they introduced local heroine Lauren Mayberry of Chvrches who sang backing vocals on this and then stayed on for a one-off performance in which she and Matt Berninger paid tribute to the late Scott Hutchison with a rendition of My Backwards Walk, a song by Frightened Rabbit.

It was a two-day stint at Kelvingrove and I consider myself very lucky to have been there on the night this took place (the following night, the show was bathed in glorious sunshine!).  I Need My Girl sounded lovely and it feels just perfect to slow things down at this juncture.

4. Rylan (from I Am Easy To Find, 2019)

I Am Easy To Find was a very different sort of album. There was a bit of electronica (more on that later) but most noticeable was the cast of female musicians playing and singing alongside the regulars.  Matt Berninger even handed over lead vocal duties on a few numbers and it did take a bit of getting used to.  It’s one of those albums that improves on repeated listens, with many of the songs having nuances best appreciated when they become familiar.

Rylan was unusual for the fact that it sounded like vintage-era The National and was quite different from the other 15 tracks.  I took an instant liking to this one and it remains a favourite of all songs from all bands in 2019.

5. England (from High Violet, 2010)

In response to one of the comments last time out, I confessed that if the ICA had been 11 tracks in length, then England would have been included.  It’s one that highlights what’s so good about the band.  It’s a complicated and ambitious number that sees changes in tempo accompanied by all sorts of instrumentation, and a vocal delivery that goes from reflective and morsose to celebratory and joyous.  It’t the sort of song that ends one side of a piece of vinyl and demands that you flip it over.

SIDE B

1. You Had Your Soul With You (from I Am Easy To Find, 2009)

Curveball time. The opening track of the latest album was like nothing they had done before. Initially unsettling, it soon becomes intriguing and magnificent.  The co-vocal on this one comes from Gail Ann Dorsey, familiar to many as part of David Bowie‘s touring band for some 20 years from the mid-90s.  This is a band who have produced some very beautiful slow songs. Just feels right to start the second side with one of their finest.

2. Blank Slate (b-side of Mistaken For Strangers, 2007)

Regular readers will know of my love for the vocal style and delivery of Paul Quinn.  Let’s simply say that the first time I heard this, it took me back.  It’s also a more than decent tune and all told, far too good to have been thrown away as a b-side.

3. The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness (from Sleep Well Beast, 2017)

Sleep Well Beast is a very fine album and I found myself wanting to find room for four tracks but they ended up, as so many songs under consideration for the previous ICA, on the outside looking in as they just didn’t fit into what I think is a well-structured and balanced running order.  This track was the first single lifted from it, preceeding the album by a full four months, and its multi-layered sound gave everyone an idea of what to expect with the subtle use of the trumpet behind the piano, guitar and drums harking back to the classic era albums.  There’s a wee bit of noodling mid-track, but I can forgive them as it just provides a platform for a great vocal finish.  I can’t explain it any other way.

4. Graceless (from Trouble Will Find Me, 2013)

Another which owes its incusion to the Glasgow live show.  Matt Berninger is famed for leaping off the stage singing songs while making his way through an auditorium, but the weather on the night meant that wasn’t on the agenda.

Or so we thought……for the next thing we know he’s donned a rainmac similar to what we were all given free of charge on arrival and he’s on his way, not giving a care for his well-being or safety.  And the band are going full-tilt at one of the fastest and most energetic songs they’ve ever recorded.  He eventually got back to the stage in one piece…..looking quite stunned!

5. Ada (from Boxer, 2007)

The final words come from my dear friend Echorich from his gentle admonishment last time around:-

The National are one of those bands that keeps me interested in homegrown music. I am a shamless Anglophile, if that wasn’t already pretty evident, but there is something about The National that really hits that sweet spot for me. This is a great selection JC. My ICA would have to include Ada from Boxer the use of brass on the song provides a wonderful, timeless quality to the song. It would definitely be my song # 10 to close the set.

He’s right……….he usually is.

JC

THERE’S JUST SOMETHING SO SEXY ABOUT PURPLE VINYL

Released at the tail end of 2010.

mp3 : The National – Terrible Love (alternate version)
mp3 : The National – You Were A Kindness

This 45 is a different mix from the version which opens the LP High Violet while the b-side was a previously unreleased track.

Sometimes lazy posts are the best posts.

JC

PS : I haven’t gotten round to listening to the band’s new LP Sleep Well Beast on account of thinking that 2013’s Trouble Will Find Me was a bit of a letdown and don’t think I could cope with two disappointing albums in a row.  Anyone wanting to write something on it for an end of year feature would be most welcome….

PPS : I’m going very retro over the next two weeks.  Tune in on Monday for more details.  For some of you, this might be the last straw in what has been 12 months of declining visitor numbers and hits in comparison to previous years!

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #95 : THE NATIONAL

In the past I’ve tended to sort of beat myself up trying to pen the various ICAs, often saying far too much to justify a particular song choice at the expense of another. This time I’m going to try to be a bit more concise as I pull together a 10-track compilation by The National.

Since forming in Cincinnati in 1999, this five-piece band have, in a career path sort of similar to early R.E.M., built up a following through a combination of increasingly good songs with the desire and willingness to graft for their art. They have released six LPs this far, from a self-titled debut in 2001 through to Trouble Will Find Me in 2013. This ICA is going to feature only songs that have been lifted from their third, fourth and fifth albums as, IMHO, they represent an era when they were truly at the top of their game and no band on the plane came close to matching their quality and consistency over the five-year period concerned.

Side A

1. Secret Meeting (from Alligator, 2005)

The opening track of the album that brought them to a wider audience thanks to it featuring in so many end of year lists/polls. A track which progressively builds up to the point where the rest of the band join in with a chant of a line that is hard to decipher but has little to do with anything else sung beforehand. Enchanting and intriguing. And what’s not to love about a song that has the free form poetry of ‘I know you put in the hours to keep me in sunglasses, I know’

2. Mistaken For Strangers (from Boxer, 2007)

The key to maintaining the momentum from that initial appearance on the critics list is to make your next record every bit as good, if not better. There was a real sense of ‘wow’ when Boxer hit the shops with America embracing the band as the latest potential saviours of alt/indie/radio friendly guitar music. The band was really busy in the aftermath of this record – it coincided with my short spell working in Toronto and The National seemed to be regulars on all the half decent radio stations with this song regularly aired.

3. Apartment Story (from Boxer, 2005)

Like so many songs by this band, the lyrics are open to all sorts of interpretation. This could be about a couple stuck inside while some sort of disaster outside unfolds but I prefer to think of it being a wonderful love song that celebrates,without being the least bit sweet or icky, that magical time in a relationship when you can happily imagine being in a bubble with your other half and to hell with what is happening out there in the real world.

4. Conversation 16 (from High Violet, 2010)

I have no idea what this is about. I thought at first listen it was a parody of American Psycho with the suggestion of cannibalism; later listens made me think about a control freak agonising over his fragile relationship. Then I saw the promo video featuring the wonderful Kristen Schaal (Flight of the Conchords) as a female president of the USA and John Slattery (Mad Men) as a besotted aide and I got totally thrown. So just take it for being the wonderful song it is.

5. Abel (from Alligator, 2005)

One of two really uptempo numbers towards the tail end of Alligator, I always thought this was strangely placed, sandwiched between two slow numbers. It can sort of jar somewhat in that contect given its loud, fierce energy comes along rather unexpectedly but I think it makes for a perfect ending to the first side of this piece of high quality 12″ vinyl.

SIDE B

1. Daughters Of The Soho Riots (from Alligator, 2005)

Curveball time. This is a band who have produced some very beautiful slow songs. Just feels right to start the second side with one of their finest.

2. Slow Show (from Boxer, 2007)

Another stunning love song. That sensation of no matter how bad your day has been, you have the solace of a warm embrace waiting for you when you turn the key into the lock of your front door.

3. Bloodbuzz Ohio (from High Violet, 2010)

This sounds like Paul Quinn on vocals. I think that has a lot to do with why I love this band so much. It’s just an outstanding piece of music that I want to sing along with every single fucking time. And then go apeshit crazy on the dance floor for its concluding instrumental section. This would be very high up in any updated 55 45s at 55 listing in a couple of years time (not that I’m going to inflict that on you).

4. Start A War (from Boxer, 2007)

Another slow one. Just seems to flow perfectly on from the previous track.

5. Mr November (from Alligator, 2005)

This ICA opened with the first track from the breakthrough album and it seems right to end it with the frantic and energetic closer. A particular favourite in the live setting. Along with the Super Furry Animals trademark number, this is the greatest song to repeatedly used the word ‘fuck’ in the lyric.

I enjoyed compiling this.  Hope some of you enjoy listening. It’s less than 40 minutes long all told

mp3 : Side A
mp3 : Side B

The individual songs can be obtained from clicking the title in the narrative.

BLUE JEANS AND CHINOS; COKE, PEPSI AND OREOS (Part 4)

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A few years ago, any blogger who was featuring The National would probably have needed to provide all sorts of background information on a band that was seemingly destined for nothing more than critical acclaim.  Three albums released between 2001 and 2005 sold in modest numbers.

Things changed a lot in 2007 with the release of  Boxer.  It topped all sorts of end of year polls and the band began to get a lot of mainstream exposure in the USA with regular appearances on the late night chat shows that pull in tens of millions of viewers.  The LP didn’t crack the charts but instead sold enough copies over an extended period of time to provide The National with a much wider fan-base and so create a platform for a concerted crack at fame and fortune which duly came in 2010 with High Violet, a record that went Top 10 in the album charts the world over.

The career trajectory is similar to that experienced two decades ago by R.E.M.

Just as similarly, there is a bit of a backlash against the band with fans of old accusing them of selling-out and releasing material that is far inferior to that of the poorly-selling early years.  This fan disagrees although will admit to being a wee bit let down by Trouble Will Find Me that  was released at the beginning of 2013….and by the fact that the recent UK and Ireland tour completely omitted gigs in Scotland.  I’m almost certain they will end up on the bill of T in the Park 2014 but that’s no consolation at all for those of us who hate festivals/outdoor gigs.

In the meantime, here’s my favourite single of theirs backed with an absolute belter of a song that was wasted as a mere b-side:-

mp3 : The National – Mistaken For Strangers

mp3 : The National – Blank Slate

Enjoy!