So I was walking around New York today, as I have become wont of doing since being back in the Jersey minus employment, and I put on the National. The National are New York band for me, especially their album Alligator. It just feels like New York in the fall, a feeling of kind of hunkering down. And here was my realization: in their own mumbling, busted at the seams suit-wearing, drink in one hand and nothing, nothing in the other kind of way, The National are pretty emo. Maybe grown-up emo, but emo nonetheless. They don’t have the dynamics of Fugazi, and they don’t have the sentimentality of Saves The Day, but they do have the same fixation on human connection and the romance that may or may not come out of such connection that the whole genre is fixated on.
“About Today” is an easy example. The brittleness of this song is enhanced by its placement, on the Cherry Tree EP right after the title track, which is a calculated, furious condemnation of someone wanting answers. “Cherry Tree” is a typical National song, strong instrumentally, and absolutely cryptic lyrically, filled with individual lines that are sharp, while also being difficult to piece together. “About Today” is far less typical for the band, straightforward and wounded. It works in the same way “Gospel” works at the end of Boxer, or the same way “Anywhere I Lay My Head” closes out Rain Dogs; after a series of songs which establish the songwriter as snide, grim, cagey, difficult to read, these tracks, show a rare, wounded, and terribly sad portrait of their singers.
Here’s an equally powerful live rendition, masterfully shot by Vincent Moon (who does the blogoteque videos).
I’ll give one more example that’s a little harder to place the emo label on, but which I’m going to try to do anyway, because I started this blogpost with a theme, and I’m nothing if not consistent. “The Geese of Beverly Road” is probably my single favorite song by The National. The way the drums cut though the strings and the wind instruments, the way the guitar weaves through the strings and the wind instruments. It’s just, musically, a beautiful composition; makes it perfectly clear why members of the band compose classical pieces fairly regularly. But lyrically, it’s a song about being young and brave and in love, and if not that, then being young and brave and being together. There’s no ulterior motive behind the song’s titular lyric “we’ll set off the geese of beverly road,” it’s seriously about the joy of chasing geese. I’m not saying you’ll see The National on tour with Taking Back Sunday next year, but…just compare the two below songs.
I’m not sure where I heard about Glossary, but I like ’em a lot. Southern rock is one of those genres (sub-genes?) where lyrics become black eyes for otherwise decent acts. It’s so easy for southern rock bands to be wonderful, musically and lyrically reconstituted. Here’s the formula: Whiskey +/- Broken Heart +/- A Fight +/- a +/- My Grandad’s Gun +/- My Dad’s Truck. I can tolerate that from almost any band for a song or two, but, at best, you’ve got me for an EP. Glossary are a southern rock band who, it seems, know the (t)ropes of the genre. Even when they indulge in lyrical familiarities, they do it well enough, with enough care, that it works. And, if that isn’t good enough, they gave away their first album. You can get that here.
And Thao and the Get Down Stay Down have a new album coming out; hear a new track at Popmatters.