If the lack of activity over the past month wasn’t a clue, I haven’t been feeling particularly inspired lately. Cue a new song from the National – just in time. I won’t even pretend to be anything other than the unobjective fanboy of the band I’ve been for the past eight years.
“Demons” is the first official leak from the forthcoming album Trouble Will Find Me, due out May 21. Where 2010’s “England” – and so many National songs before it – slayed me with triumphant crescendoes, “Demons” settles into a comfortable groove from the get-go. Matt Berninger, as usual, sings a tick behind the beat, giving the song an almost unnerving flow. But his talk-sing baritone keeps it together until the knockout, insecure chorus: “But I stay down, with my demons. I stay down, with my demons”
And I’ve been harping on this for years, but I think we can all agree that drummer Bryan Devendorf is the unheralded star of this and so many National songs. His drumming is a study in restrained control. As much as I love seeing a drummer become unhinged, there’s something similarly satisfying about a drummer who makes a statement by being understated, a composed level of self-control and confidence that reigns over a song. And Devendorf has done it here. Again.
Brassland, the label founded by Alec Hanley Bemis and twin National guitarists Aaron and Bryce Dessner, is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month by giving away a song a day in November.
Now, I’m only about 19 days late on this, but there’s still time to get free goodies – and you can easily find some of the tracks Brassland already has given away.
The National, now playing to some 18,000 people these days, got its start from the New York-based label, and any fan (new or old) should take the time to explore the band’s early work on Brassland (not to mention other artists on the label like Baby Dayliner, Doveman and more). On Nov. 3, the label’s giveaway was a song called “High Beams,” which apparently is one of the earliest known demos by The National and has been out of circulation for five years (its last likely appearance coming on a 2005 Music For Robots compilation).
I believe the download link has vanished, but it’s still available to stream via SoundCloud below. As a demo recorded in 2000, this is obviously not the polished product we know now. But it’s great that the National and Brassland have offered it up, letting us trace the band back to its humble beginnings. Still, even in an early demo (and with the benefit of 10 years of material to compare it to), it’s pretty clear to see where the National was headed.
Pitchfork posted Brassland’s giveaway schedule, which includes another National track on Monday (“Mr. November” perhaps?).
Another of my favorites of the batch has been the Baby Dayliner track “When I Look Into Your Eyes,” a new song that is exclusive to the giveaway. New Baby Dayliner is always good in my book. Or as one commenter once said: “Baby Dayliner is pure tits.” I think that works well as a promotional quote for the next album.
We trekked to Los Angeles this past weekend to see the National at Hollywood Bowl, and it was easy to get the sense we witnessed a True Moment – a stunning realization of a band’s ascent. Is it possible the group that was playing the smallish Modified Arts in Phoenix six years ago was now nearly filling an 18,000-capacity amphitheater? That’s basically the size of a basketball arena, and when I think of it like that I still can’t wrap my head around it. (I caught myself several times turning around to try to grasp just how many people were there.)
Surely in the seven or so times I’ve seen the National I’ve had more intimate experiences, like, say, last fall at Marquee Theatre in Tempe when singer Matt Berninger’s mic cord nearly clotheslined me as he took “Terrible Love” through the audience. At Hollywood Bowl, we sat somewhere in the middle (section K), and while the band felt far away (I spent a lot of time watching the video screen) the show was still riveting.
Berninger appears more comfortable on stage – he sort of has to be at this point – but there’s still a bit of an anxious edge to him. And the Bowl setlist, about 80 minutes long, played into his hands. While it drew heavy from High Violet (with guest help from Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent), they snuck in older tracks, including “Available” and “Cardinal Song” (I can’t recall ever seeing them play anything off 2003’s Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers).
The show ended with “About Today,” a song off the 2004 Cherry Tree EP that has been revived as a featured song in the movie Warrior. It was a beautiful (if somber) ending to a perfect night, and thanks to the National’s old label, Brassland, you can download the track for free at Bandcamp.
Here is one of the trailers for Warrior, featuring “About Today”:
I’m not really sure what the Portal video-game series is about – when does the new Madden come out anyway? – but a new song by the National, Exile Vilify, was included on the Portal 2 soundtrack earlier this year.
A couple months ago, Valve Software and the band launched a video contest, and, as reported at Pitchfork, there is a winner, whittled down from 320 entries. Director C.F. Meister created a somber visual that follows around a really sad sock puppet. I’ve seen some sad socks in my day – many of which reside in my top drawer – but this one takes the cake.
You can watch that video above and watch the runner-up – or what the folks at Portal 2 are calling 1.00000000001th Place – below: