The National – Alligator
Beggar's Banquet, 2005
Acquired: Love Garden, New, 2009
I bought this after falling in love with Boxer, their 2008 breakout. That's a better record by just a little bit, but only because the National get progressively better with each album. I state this only after retroactively listening to their records. I can only assume their Boxer follow-up, due in 2010, will be their best record. This is their second best record, and it's really fucking good. Matt Berninger has a way of writing lyrics in a way that is all his own. Almost stream of consciousness, but they're too structured for that. There's something classic about them, but there's also something kind of weird and off the cuff. “Karen tie me to a chair/ Fuck me and make me a drink.” There's something genius about that. It's like a drunken rant to yourself. “Baby We'll Be Fine” expounds on an age old sentiment but the vocal line is what brings that all home. The Dessner brothers, however, are the ones laying that bed of music down for Berninger to flow weird words over. The first thing I noticed about the National when I fell in love with them was the sound. How did these guys make a record that sounded so heavy? And not heavy in a bad way, it sounded serious and professional. Expertly produced is what it is, because it's also carefree and there's a lightness at times. “All the Wine” is the perfect example. The lyrics sound like drunken mutterings on a long walk through New York City. “I'm a birthday candle in a circle of black girls,” Berninger sings. What the fuck does that mean? “Big wet bottle in my fist/ Big red rose in my teeth/ I'm a perfect piece of ass.” It's great! Yet that lead guitar riff echoes and tingles through the song. Ultimately, this is what I would call American music. Not Americana, because I don't know what that is and the Americana section at Borders is totally lame. Wilco is filed in it sometimes, which is dumb, because Wilco, like the National, is another band I see as American music. Then again, I might not know what I'm talking about because true American music is like, I don't know, Jazz or the Blues, you know? I think what I'm getting at is that this is what it sounds like to be an American right now. There's an air of seriousness but ultimately there's some sort of wink or nudge to lighten the mood. It ends with "Mr. November," which was a big part of my election season. The song I played on repeat getting fired up to go into the voting booth and vote for Barack Obama. "I won't fuck us over/ I'm Mr. November," Berninger sings. I have a shirt I got from their website with Obama's face and the title Mr. November. It's rad. This record is insanely good, and it's really hard to believe that they were able to make a record even better than this one.