Music: The National

The National are a Post-Punk Revival band from New York, primarily known for their laid-back, yet melancholy sound. The band consists of Matt Berninger (singer / songwriter), Aaron Dessner (bassist / guitarist / keyboardist), Bryce Dessner (guitarist / keyboardist), Bryan Devendorf (drummer), and Scott Devendorf (bassist / guitarist).

They started out with a small underground following in 1999, producing mostly So Okay, It's Average albums and EPs, until their 2005 album, Alligator which turned them into critical darlings. From there, their albums continued to get better. In 2007, their album, Boxer was featured on many "Best of the Year" lists, and in 2010 their fifth album, High Violet won them further critical attention. The album has even been in competition with Arcade Fire's The Suburbs and Beach House's Teen Dream in year-end charts. In 2011 they provided a song featured in Portal 2 at the request of the developers and performed "The Rains of Castamere" for the 2012 season of Game of Thrones. The golden run then continued in 2013 with the release of their sixth album Trouble Will Find Me.

Unlike many bands in the Indie/Alternative movement, they don't rely on of happy/poppy or aggressive hooks to keep their music going. Instead they focus on sombre, tug-at-your-heartstrings type of music. Matt Berninger's Baritone vocals provide very bittersweet lyrics accompanied by the band that keeps a lush sound spiraling in the background. Many people claim that their music helps them through depressing times in their lives and actually uplifts them. Other people tend to call them too melancholy and dismiss them in the same manner as Radiohead gets dismissed.

Not to be confused with the CBC's flagship evening News Broadcast.

The National contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Adorkable: Each band member, especially Matt and the Dessners, has their moments.
  • Album Title Drop: The title Trouble Will Find Me is derived from a lyric in "Sea Of Love" ("If I stay here, trouble will find me").
  • Ambiguous Gender: It's never explicitly stated if the Joe in "Sea Of Love" is a man or a woman, since the name could go either way. The album's liner notes use "Joe" instead of "Jo", suggesting a man, but they also use "child" in place of boy or girl which keeps it ambiguous.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: "Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks".
    Leave your home
    Change your name
    Live alone
    Eat your cake
  • Badass Baritone: Matt Berninger owns this trope.
  • Band of Relatives: Type 1: Aaron and Bryce are twins, and Bryan and Scott are brothers.
  • Basso Profundo: Matt is generally a baritone, but sometimes he borders on this when he gets low enough on songs like "Demons," "Runaway," "The Rains Castamere" of and "Bloodbuzz Ohio"
  • Beard of Sorrow: Matt seems to sport one of these when it's not a Perma Stubble.
  • Breakup Album: Trouble Will Find Me.
  • Call Back: Happens quite often considering Matt is the one and only lyric writer for the band, and how his lyrics are very self-referential. For example, "Slow Show" on Boxer references the title lyrics to "29 Years" all the way back on the first album.
  • Careful With That Axe: Matt did this occasionally on their earlier albums. It's especially effective in "Slipping Husband", as it's a quiet song where Matt suddenly erupts towards the end with a truly jarring scream. "Abel" basically has Matt do this for it's duration. In addition, live performances of "Available" "Squalor Victoria", "Mr November", and "Graceless" also tend to feature a great deal of this.
  • Concept Album: Although none of the band members have officially offered any confirmation, the lyrics of Trouble Will Find Me suggest that the album might be the story of the dissolution and aftermath of a relationship between a man named Joe and a woman named Jennifer.
    • According Matt Berninger, Boxer is one of these as well. The underlying theme of the album seems to be about growing into adulthood, and the anxieties that come with it.
    • Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers plays this straight.
  • Darker and Edgier:
    • High Violet is noticeably darker in apparent subject matter and tone than anything the band's previously put out, the lightest song being "Terrible Love" and the heaviest being "Runaway".
    • Trouble Will Find Me goes even further. The album's lyrics and tone are unrelentingly bleak throughout and it's the quietest album by the band yet. While it is beautifully-composed and written, it is by no stretch of the imagination a happy album.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Matt. Sometimes it spills into the lyrics as well.
  • Downer Ending: "Hard To Find" functions as one for the narrative of Trouble Will Find Me. The protagonist (Joe), has the opportunity to pursue the person that he has spent the album reflecting on (presumably Jennifer), but passes it up due to his belief that being together is an impossibility, thereby resigning himself to continue yearning for her and contemplating their past together.
  • Drunken Song: "All The Wine", "Bloodbuzz Ohio", and countless others.
    • "City Middle" is a darker take, which has references to Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, mentioning "I wait for the click/But it doesn't kick in." "The click" being the hopes that alcoholism will erase all the troubles that sober life brings, but it tragically never works.
    • "Don't Swallow The Cap" also functions as a darker take on this type of song. The track's narrative is clearly in a terrible state of drunkenness, sadness, and disorientation, but he oscillates between denial and panic throughout the song. Similarly to "City Middle", it also references Tennessee Williams. In this case, it's title refers to the manner in which Williams died.
  • Echoing Acoustics:
    • On High Violet, everything reverberates. EVERY. SINGLE. INSTRUMENT.
    • Trouble Will Find Me does it even MORE. Matt has admitted that when he's coming up with lyrics, he puts whatever the Dessners set him into Garage Band, adds reverb to it, and basically sings until he comes up with some words.
  • Epic Rocking: "Son", "A Reasonable Man (I Don't Mind)" and "England" all exceed five minutes, while "Cardinal Song" exceeds six.
    • The live version of "About Today" from The Virginia EP is eight minutes and twenty-five seconds long.
    • One of their most memorable concerts was when they played "Sorrow" live on repetition for a record time of six hours non-stop.
  • Fading into the Next Song: "I Need My Girl" into "Humiliation" on Trouble Will Find Me
  • Indecipherable Lyrics: Matt's Perishing Alt Rock Voice is so perishing that he sometimes sounds like he just got done Drowning His Sorrows before he recorded the song. For an example, see Blank Slate.
  • Long Runner Line Up: The same five guys since 1999.
  • Loudness War: Despite their critical acclaim, they've received a bunch of criticism for their mastering. Clipping especially apparent on the climax of "Slipping Husband" and the ending of "Murder Me Rachel." Most of their songs are limited/compressed to the point where "90-Mile Water Wall" is as loud as "Abel."
    • Unfortunately this also results in what could have been very dynamic mixes like "Karen" becoming crushed and drowning out the vocals.
      • It's for this reason the vinyl releases sound entirely different; instruments recorded at different levels remained so, so guitars and drums that were overbearing on the CD releases became smaller side notes. Albums up to Alligator in particular benefit from their vinyl releases since they lack the distinguishing reverberated vocals found on later albums. Bizzarely enough, the vinyl versions don't really fix the clipping issues associated with the CD versions either, they just sound more dynamic because the levels are different.
    • For some reason averted with the self-titled's "29 Years."
  • Lyrical Cold Open: "Cardinal Song"
  • Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: Varies per album:
    • The National: 1-2.
    • Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers: 2-3, possibly even 5 for "Murder Me Rachel" if only for the batshit ending.
    • Alligator: 3, maxes at 4 for "Abel".
    • Boxer: 3.
    • High Violet: 2.
    • Trouble Will Find Me: 1, peaks at 2 for "Don't Swallow The Cap", "Graceless" & "Sea Of Love" only.
  • The Movie: Two; there was one about the making of Boxer called "A Skin, a Night" and there was another, more important one called "Mistaken For Strangers." This one is about the National's lead singer's brother, Tom, following the band on tour and it documents the relationship between Tom and Matt.
  • New Sound Album:
    • Alligator drastically changed the sound from a sort of country-folk mix into an aggressive, more rock-based sound.
    • Also, Boxer, which added processing to Matt's vocals to make them stand out more, removed backing vocals entirely, put more emphasis on the drums and generally slowed the songs down from Alligator's more frantic pacing.
    • High Violet. Rather than experimenting with different rock structures and styles, the band opted for a very methodically played out and slow-burning indie rock style.
    • It's come to the point where Trouble Will Find Me actually subverts New Sound Album, keeping the same reverb-y sound found on the last album.
    • In a sense, Trouble Will Find Me can be seen as a sort of synthesis of the styles of Boxer and High Violet respectively. Similar to High Violet, it's slower and more layered than most of their work, however, it greatly dials back the sonic density that defined several tracks on the previous album ("Terrible Love", "Bloodbuzz Ohio", "Lemonworld", among others), in favor of the sparser approach that defined a number of the tracks on Boxer'. Furthermore, the album also places more emphasis on unconventional time signatures and brings the backing vocals to the forefront once more.
  • Precision F-Strike: Both "Demons" and "Slipped" makes effective use of this trope.
    • "Mr. November." I won't fuck us over/I'm Mr. November/I'm Mr. November/I won't fuck us over!
  • Perishing Alt Rock Voice: Practically omnipresent in their work, especially from Boxer onward.
  • Recycled Lyrics: A particularly stunning example in "Slow Show", where Matt reuses his lyrics from "29 Years" to conclude the former. It's in a way a nod to how far they came up to that point, as Boxer was essentially the album that broke them into mainstream status. This of course would later be cemented by High Violet and Trouble Will Find Me.
  • Rockers Smash Guitars: Matt tends to break his microphones and other stage equipment because, well, he's friggin' insane.
  • Self-Deprecation: A staple of Berninger's lyrics.
  • Self-Titled Album: Their debut.
  • Shout-Out: Trouble Will Find Me contains references to The Beatles, Nirvana ("Don't Swallow the Cap"), Elliot Smith ("Fireproof"), Morrissey ("Pink Rabbits") and Violent Femmes ("Hard to Find").
  • Soprano and Gravel: One of the rare examples where the vocals sound more gritty than the instruments, and also with a male vocalist. He frequently utilizes very quiet, subdued, and heavily reverberated tenor and falsetto parts in the backing vocals creating a similar effect to this.
    • This is also quite prevalent on Trouble Will Find Me. Berninger functions as the Gravel, while the Soprano part is fulfilled by either: Nona Marie Invie ("Don't Swallow The Cap"), Sharon Van Etten ("This Is The Last Time", "Hard To Find"), or St. Vincent ("Sea Of Love", "Humiliation").
  • Triumphant Reprise: The ending of "Slow Show" borrows a lyric from an earlier song titled "29 Years" ("You know ( dreamed about you for 29 years before i saw you"). However, whereas the original lyric was sung in a melancholic and weary fashion, the reprised version is considerably more emotive and hopeful sounding.
  • Uncommon Time: "Demons" is in 7/8 time. "I Should Live In Salt" is in 9/8. "Hard to Find" is in 5/4.
    • "Fake Empire" is in 3/2.
  • Word Salad Lyrics: Yep. Matt has even stated himself that he just lines up clever phrases he made up in his head.