Tuesday, September 3, 2013

LouFest Preview | The National

Photo by Jason Gonulsen

Today, you were far away
And I didn't ask you why
What could I say?
I was far away

The lyrics above are taken from "About Today," my favorite song by The National. Some of you will know it from its inclusion at the end of Warrior, a fine film with an emotional conclusion. Others will know it from an EP called Cherry Tree.

I don't think it matters how we find music, but I do believe it's important that we're introduced to the right songs at the right time. For example, "About Today," and most of The National's music, really, is not meant to be heard in passing; it's too challenging, too emotional to be understood in a fleeting moment. Perhaps "Mr. November," "Abel," or "Bloodbuzz Ohio" are okay for any situation, but it's generally very tricky when it comes to introducing The National's music to someone, mainly because of mood, and because of Matt Berninger' baritone, which often is tough for people to digest.

I remember playing "About Today" for my ex-girlfriend for the first time. It was at night, we were driving, windows rolled down. I remember when it was over, all I heard from her was, "play that one again." I think we listened to it three more times. Isn't it a beautiful thing when an undistracted opportunity to listen to music and the ability to do so is timed so perfectly?

The National's latest album, Trouble Will Find Me, has many songs like "About Today" in the sense that they don't immediately reveal themselves fully. Perhaps the most important track is "Slipped," which includes these gorgeous lines:

I don't want you to grieve
But I want you to sympathize (alright)
I can't blame you for losing
Your mind for a little while (so did I)
I don't want you to change
But I want you to recognize (that I)

It'll be easy to cover
Gather your skeletons far inside
It'll be summer in Dallas
Before you realize

That I'll never be
Anything you ever want me to be

"Slipped" was created by rearranging the chords from a Bob Dylan song, "Not Dark Yet." In May, Aaron Dessner told The Guardian that he hoped "Slipped" to be "this lugubrious, swampy ballad that Matt's voice would dominate, and just feel timeless. . .It's not that the song is God's gift to songwriting or anything. But it felt to me something that I'd always hoped we could do."

And maybe that's what The National's music is -- one big giant hope on the horizon, patiently waiting for the perfect moment to be discovered.

The National performs Saturday, September 7th at LouFest in St. Louis at 6:30 PM. You can purchase tickets to the festival here.

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