10 Best National Songs
The National are a Brooklyn, N.Y. band who found their beginnings in Cincinnati, Ohio. Consisting of vocalist Matt Berninger, brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner on guitars, Scott Devendorf on bass and his brother Bryan on drums, the National have become one of the most critically acclaimed bands to surface in the 2000s. Beginning with the material of their breakthrough 2005 album, 'Alligator,' we've come up with a list of the 10 Best National Songs to spotlight their top work.
The National must have listened to a lot of Pixies and Bruce Springsteen for inspiration on the 'Alligator' track 'Abel.' "My mind's not right / My mind's not right / My mind's not right," Berninger screams in his best Black Francis impression. The National brought in 'Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers' producer Peter Katis, and the tighter production values shine. The finale in 'Abel' is a whirlwind of instruments that threatens to spin out of control, but the National wrap it up nicely at the end.
The closing track on the National's fifth studio album, 'High Violet,' is a ballad that is both humorous and beautiful. 'Vanderlyne Crybaby Geeks' incorporates string instruments to great dramatic effect. Berninger draws out every word as if it will be his last. "Vanderlyle, Crybaby, cry / Though the waters are risin' / Still no surprisin' you / Vanderlyle, crybaby, cry / Man its all been forgiven / Swans are a swimmin' / I'll explain everything to the geeks," the song goes. The track ranks at No. 9 on our Best National Songs list.
Coming in at No. 8 on our Best National Songs list is 'Lucky You,' from 2003's 'Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers.' It's one of the band's most straightforward and simple numbers but still heartbreaking and effective. 'Lucky You' opens with the sad strumming of an acoustic guitar and picks up at a melodic pace. Berninger's down-on-his-luck delivery about struggling to move on after a breakup slithers its way into your heart as you feel the pain he's going through. "You clean yourself to meet / The man who isn't me / You're putting on a shirt / A shirt I'll never see," the singer accepts. We've all been there, Matt.
The National song 'Apartment Story' is lyrically more hopeful than most National tunes. The band's instruments do not overwhelm Berninger's words about a couple that are trying to rekindle their love. "We'll stay inside 'til somebody finds us / Do whatever the TV tells us / Stay inside our rosy-minded fuzz for days," he sings. The music video for 'Apartment Story' shares the same theme, depicting 30-somethings at a high school reunion, seemingly disenchanted with their lives as the National perform onstage. Eventually the jaded ones come out of their buzz-killing shells and hit the dance floor.
On this track, the National tell the tale of a young person who aspires to be the President of the United States, promising to uphold ideals that will benefit the country. Scott Devendorf's rapid bass lines combine with the Dessner brothers' frantic guitars for a punk rock anthem about fighting corruption in politics. "I'm the new blue blood, I'm the great white hope / I'm the new blue blood / I won't f--- us over, I'm Mr. November / I'm Mr. November, I won't f--- us over," he promises. The National supported Barack Obama during his 2008 presidential run, creating T-shirts with his image and the words "Mr. November."
The National continued their streak of churning out excellent albums with 2010's 'High Violet.' Lead single 'Bloodbuzz Ohio,' coming in at No. 5 on our list of Best National Songs, is a sonic mix of steady drums, dreamy piano keys and the fuzz of guitars all expertly woven together behind Berninger's baritone vocals. The black and white music video for 'Bloodbuzz Ohio' starts off as if it's a Heineken commercial, showing Berninger looking dapper in a suit before wandering around New York City.
If you can imagine for a moment what a more upbeat Joy Division would sound like, the National song 'Mistaken for Strangers' should come to mind. Berninger channels his best Ian Curtis on the track while murmuring lyrics like, "Make up something to believe in your heart of hearts / So you have something to wear on your sleeve of sleeves / So you swear you just saw a feathery woman / Carry a blindfolded man through the trees." Bryan Devendorf's drumming in 'Mistaken for Strangers' is some of his most spirited work.
Taken from their 2001 self-titled debut, 'Cold Girl Fever' features a pleasant arrangement with a tinge of country. Berninger reflects on a relationship that has lost its passion. "I promised to leave if you ever went cold / Then leave when I'm sleeping, you told me / Put your spine in your back and your arms in your coat / Don't hold on to me when there's nothing to hold," he sings. The track features a quirky synth-like riff that is replaced by a traditional guitar during live performances.
Expectations were high for the National to follow-up their critically acclaimed 2005 release, 'Alligator,' and the band delivered in spades with 'Boxer.' 'Fake Empire' is the finest cut from the record, beginning with a piano composition that sounds like a late night ballad. The track, which lands at No. 2 on our Best National Songs list, transforms into a three-and-a-half minute musical daydream and explodes into a mix of energetic horns and guitars for a satisfying ending.
The National song 'All The Wine,' taken from their 2005 album 'Alligator,' is one of those numbers that you slowly groove to by yourself. Devendorf's drumming is the track's backbone that keeps everything on pace. Berninger's trademark conversational vocals never lose their luster, delivering honest lyrics like, "I'm put together beautifully / Big wet bottle in my fist, big wet rose in my teeth / I'm perfect piece of a--" in a cool, calm style that poets would envy. 'All The Wine' tops our list of the Best National Songs.