April 21, 2005

Test Spin: The National

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In the past, New York’s The National have spun silken orchestration and gravelly despair into two poignant — if highly derivative — albums. Alligator, the band’s first release on Beggars Banquet, is the most polished and listenable collection yet. Unfortunately, it’s also the most spiritless. Singer Matt Berninger’s distinctive delivery seems increasingly torn between prosaic, post-Interpol deadpan (“Friend of Mine”) and bizarre valley-girl satire (“All the Wine”).

The band’s most effective pieces still revolve around numbing romances and quarter-life crises. Additionally, guitarists Bryce and Aaron Dessner submerge the stark songs in stormy melancholy. Likewise, the rhythm section — Scott and Bryan Devendorf — tends to sacrifice its ego in order to achieve haunting, barely perceptible patterns. On the album’s best songs (“Secret Making,” “Daughters of the Soho Riots”), these contributions all coalesce into uniquely gloomy indie-rock. But, more typically, all the musicians seem isolated from one another, producing wave after wave of innocuously anthemic pop-punk.

Archived article by Alex Linhardt
Sun Senior Writer