Here we are, 18 days into the new year and I haven’t given you the best albums of last year yet! How have you survived? Before you do anything drastic, please read on. I’ll let you know what’s good and why.
A friend of mine hates The National. He can’t stand the constant mellowness of their sound. I can’t really argue that they are a super-diverse group. Their songs do sound kind of similar. Their subject matter doesn’t vary all that much. But they are the best at what they do. Every song on this album is fantastic. Whether it is the sad reflection on familial and home-town ties of “Bloodbuzz Ohio” where we learn that still owes money to the money to the money he owes or the sad song from the perspective of a man in love with sorrow (on the aptly titled “Sorrow”) The National know melancholy and know it well. Probably the best song is “Lemon World”. We get the portrait of a man back from war (“It was the only sentimental thing I could think of”) and dealing with his friends and family not understanding how he feels. He ends up “try[ing] to find something on this thing that means nothing”. It’s a wonderfully touching song and resonant even for people that haven’t gone to war.
Before I listened to this album I could have sworn that I wasn’t really a fan of the technologically inclined music. Daft Punk never did much for me. I guess this album isn’t full on techno. It is full on awesome. What really appeals to me is the cleverness. “Dance Yrself Clean” (there it is again) starts the album and it begins quietly. James Murphy whispers some lines about “Talking like a jerk / Except you are an actual jerk / And living proof that sometimes friends are mean.” There’s a very basic beat for a good 3 minutes and then the song explodes into crazy energy and loud noises. The song sets the tone for the rest of the album. The way Murphy plays with words and production really makes this album great. In “Drunk Girls” Murphy extols the virtues of the titular beings, telling us that they “know that love is an astronaut / It comes back but is never the same”. It’s a song that seems like one of those drunk anthems but is really about waking up the next morning and talking about the weather.
His kiss-off to the record labels/music journalists/fans, “You Wanted a Hit” is a lot of fun, too. Murphy knows what he is doing in every sense of the word and when he tries to do something for somebody else, “it ends up feeling kind of wrong”. That’s an artist. That’s the best album of the year.
I’ll return soon with some odds and ends from the year in music. Some good songs and albums that didn’t make the cut.