Sunday, December 11, 2011

The National - I need my girl and Rylan

Where to next for the National? As a late comer to this band buoyed by the giddy excellence of High Violet, I had the joy of having an extensive back catalogue to explore. As time has passed and those records have sunken into my subconscious, High Violet seems like the natural culmination of everything that preceded it, an album refined by the past records but adhering to a template forged on the strengths of each band member. The question is where to next for a group after a record that is so universally loved and lauded.

If the band are feeling any pressure of expectation, they're certainly not showing it. The indications for the next record are good with the beautiful Exile, Vilify released earlier this year and now two new songs, I need my girl and Rylan. When I talked about Exile, Vilify earlier in the year, Matt noted that they were like an American Bad Seeds when it came to ballads and the more I think about it, the more apt that description becomes. Both bands traffic in sophisticated but understated balladry which borders on morose at times but never overwhelms the narrative of the song. For all of Nick Cave's mad preacher schtick, when he gets quieter he often tells tales that refer to character details, stories and traits like he's talking to you about an old friend. The National convey a similar sensibility - little, intimate moments that somehow hint at the larger problems at hand.

I need my girl is a familiar trope, despite the dysfunction and craziness of a relationship the desire for that person is unabated, no matter how bad it is for us. Built around a simple acoustic riff, the song gently floats beneath Berninger's lovely vocal. Better still, Rylan is a gentle character study of failure and escape built around expectation and ambition. It's a gorgeous song that slowly builds in intensity but never peaks, an understated slow burn. Both songs are excellent and while the National seem to be endlessly touring, I hope there is a new album coming soon. America's best band at the moment? A big call but I think so, I think so...


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