Coming Clean on My Obsession with the National

I have heard that obsessions are not healthy.  I have heard that things come in phases, and I have heard that I listen to the same songs over and over to a sickening degree.  I have heard that the National are too boring, too melodramatic, too monotone, too brooding, too liberal, too too much… anything.

I have the answer.  They are.

When I dove headfirst into the National’s catalog, it became the definition of my life.  It became the visceral, the surface of my being.  Matt Berninger’s ruminating and sorrowful lyrics were not just fairy tale lands that people use to modify their emotional denominator… they were real-time headlines of my time, cleverly sewn into the fabric of my life.

I detest the fan boy image that typically follows a preoccupation of this degree.  Many people will wear the shirt, the cologne, the hat, and eat the breakfast cereal… they will stay up late watching random videos or dig and dig for leaks of new material or the random cover or the ONE time they played that ONE song at SOME place.  I am not like that.  I don’t crone over the National’s every move.  I follow them on Instagram; it’s true, and I have even liked one of their pictures.  (Little effort was required on my part; I simply clicked my mouse twice.)

I am no fan boy.  I am obsessed.  Again, it is because they report the news of my life.

Technically, the band is hardly matched.  And for those people with the brooding, monotone, melancholy argument… you can surely just fuck straight off because Matt is an absolutely pitch perfect baritone.  When John Lennon accused Paul McCartney of only singing songs about ‘silly love’; Paul aptly responded by selling over another million 7” singles of the song: Silly Love Songs.  You can just state that, “He’s not singing to you,” and move on as opposed to saying a musically retarded statement.  You probably listen to poor music (aka Nickleback) and should just (again) fuck off.  We won’t even get into their heady collaborations with some of the best musicians in the world (Sufjan Stevens, Justin Vernon, Annie Clark, etc.), but the Desner brothers (they’re the guitarists folks!) are impeccable in their song structure and composition.  They are truly rock music masters.  The Devendorf brothers are equally as good, and there could be made a strong argument that Bryan Devendorf is one of the preeminent drummers of our age.

I am no fan boy.  They are a good band.

And again, it’s because they report the news of my life.

When he croons, “I’m trying, but I’ve gone through the glass again,” I recall the time when I went through the front bay window in my house on a drunken night.  Helped ever-so-graciously by my friend Brandon.

Or, “I gave my heart to the Army, the only sentimental thing I could think of…” is a perfect explanation of the reason I joined the military.  Which is because my brother did… sentimental solidarity.

“Brother, I wish you were home, just tell me you’re not alone.  Call me back; I’m on a plane.  I think I’m somewhere over Spain.”  Verbatim.

“Fifteen blue shirts and womanly hands, just shooting up the ladder.”  Six promotions in four years and a closet full of button up blue shirts…

There are countless parallels.  Many which deal with an unhealthy year of imbibing bottles of whiskey to the most copious degree.  Perhaps it was the more-than-obvious symptom that my life was falling further and further into the American Dream that kept me well-oiled (underwater, drunk, sloshed, hammered…) and running.

And I almost scattered it all.

I haven’t spoken of or even reviewed the new album to even the slightest degree.  People ask me how it is, and I nonchalantly put skin on its immensity.  I may make the assertion that it is more ‘metal’ than Metal.  I will say things that are very buzzy like: “it’s so rich,” “it’s remarkably earthy,” “his voice is like a velvet blanket,” or “it’s so immediate.”  Truthfully, after the Walkmen’s album Heaven, I have settled the pop-music-misery.  The new album allowed me to love the National in a new way.  It allowed me to stop reading the news.

I got to appreciate the new album in an altered light: through experience and the numbness of the past.  It’s a quiet night now, and I don’t find myself lost in the haze so much.  I truly love the music, and I can hear the walk-off coming.  As we just become content with our lives as they are… we can pour the instinctual and the instantaneous out for a just a twinkling minute.  Only for a moment.

And then I find myself, in my favorite chair, face calmed by incandescent light as I read a decent book and think, “You can all just kiss off into the air…”


The Existential Blah.

For the past week or so, the song Mute by the moody Trevor Powers (aka Youth Lagoon) has been on heavy play.  In the car, in the home, in my head…  It’s been a little while since I’ve been uniquely captivated by a singular track.  It generally happens a few times a year, but I can’t really think of any since Heaven by The Walkmen was released last year.

The song is structurally brilliant and well recorded (done up, etc.); but at the end of the day, the song breathes life into a growing world of existentialist youths.  We’ve gotten past the idea that we could die at any moment, our lives aren’t dangerous, our little micro-universes of what we know consume us.  Our self importance and our image devour us, and we quickly and daily die our tiny deaths.

Everyone wants to know what it is like to die.  To find out there is nothing.  Racing toward the finish line.


Album Review: The Joy Formidable – Wolf’s Law


  • I pre-ordered my copy of Wolf’s Law by the Joy Formidable.
  • I am a bit of a fan.
  • I am biased to female vocalists. (It’s how I ended up married!)

I thought for sure, for sure!!!, that after Silversun released Swoon and Joy Formidable released The Big Roar, that the Pumpkins era would finally return and we would move out of the 80’s electro-pop influenced music that has saturated the Indie scene for a few good years now.  Don’t misunderstand, I quite enjoy all the 80’s inspired music that floats around; however, I do feel it necessary to have movement in the music and loud guitars and varying vocal deliveries that are not present in all electro-pop drone material.

But at the end of the day, I was wrong.  And Silversun took a shit with their last record, and the only thing separating me and the abysmal cliff that is blending genres was this new record by the Joy Formidable.

Wolf’s Law:
Cool album cover to boot!  The deluxe edition that I ordered (that came out a day early!) has really cool packaging with a hummingbird pin enclosed in it that apparently has the magical property of getting one-on-one face time with Ritzy at any show… (SCORE!)  I think I ordered the deluxe edition just because I have a bit of a passion for wolves, and I loved the imagery.  I even donate to help curb wolf management programs at Defenders of Wildlife.  (But that’s neither here nor there… Go donate!)

The album was a bit tough to swallow at first.  From top to finish the album is complex lyrically, as I’ve come to expect from Ritzy Bryan.  The album fires off with the first two singles: This Ladder is Ours  and Cholla.  A strong start quickly fades away.  While the third track, Tendons, is a decent song, it fails to bring the level of immersion high enough.  On their freshmen record, I found that I was constantly drowning in the warmth of the music and the thickness of it, while trying desperately to put a finger on what she means or wants to say.

The next several tracks are easily forgotten.  Silent Treatment is obviously a very intimate track and brings you as close to Ritzy as we probably will ever feel.  It is a beautiful song, but it is covered on both sides of the album, and I feel like it gets lost.

I didn’t get engaged again until The Leopard and the Lung, which comes about as close to the sweeping, orchestral songs that were every other track on The Big Roar.

All of this seems pretty damn dismal, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.  The Turnaround looked like (at first glance on my iTunes gui) that it would be an epic masterpiece.  But they had gone and slid a hidden track at the backside of the song.  It’s a quiet and building Sigur Ros-type piece that, I think, turns this album to roses.  The song is the title track, Wolf’s Law, and it is a perfect end.  The song sounds like salvation and it is exactly that to its parent.

It is getting stronger through repetition.


The Lyrical Conundrum.

Since I already said how badass Beach House’s new record was months ago, I guess there’s nothing much to talk about.  Sure, there were a few records that have came out.  Some of them were good.  Some of them were disappointing.

And I don’t want to talk about that, because it upsets me. (Neck of the Woods. *cough*)

There are things about music that I can’t quite explain.  I can’t explain the sounds that James Horner splices together to make a sweeping composition.  I can’t explain how those notes, for inexplicably no reason at all, make my hair stand on end and shivers roll down my spine.  I don’t know why an extremely high note that is layered over a steady low tone will relax me.  I don’t know why a soft, echoing guitar rift will send me to sleep, even in the most inconvenient situations, and I sure as shit don’t know why bass slides always put a smile on my face.

But I can explain one thing.  I can explain why a lyric sends me into all those places.  I can explain why a lyric will send me into a whisky drunk, a sober sleep, passionate throws, or silent contemplation…

I don’t own the words.  I didn’t write them.  I’m not that creative, and I famously have a list of songs that ‘I wish I fucking wrote’.  I’m not going to tell you which songs I wish I wrote, but I do want to explore the difference between what the artist means and the way I perceive it on my own.

My thesis: I don’t give a fuck.  It took me a long time to decide this.  I have no idea what those artists did in their lives.  Maybe they have done nothing different than you or I.  Maybe they do the same damn boring things; maybe they are just more vocal about it.  In fact, I think that is probably the case.  Maybe they’re just as unimportant as the rest of us… (I say ‘maybe’ a lot in here… speculate much?)

But their lives are important to them.  Just as yours should be to you.  We are all one in the same.  And now, I think that good lyrics are ones that I can relate my personal experiences to.

I wonder about my parents and their divorce.  I listen to the song ‘House Full of Empty Rooms’ by Kathleen Edwards, and I imagine that they felt that way.  I’m pretty damn sure.

I think about songs like ‘Cigarettes and Alcohol’ when I’m out for a good drunk.
I think about songs like ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’ when I’m out for a horrific drunk.
I listen to the Beach Boys when I think I am younger than I am.
I listen to the song ‘Happy’ by the Wrens when I feel exposed.
I listen to ‘When the Levee Breaks’ when I feel like I can kick everyone’s ass.
I listen to Tori Amos and U2 when I am on a plane over the ocean.
I smoke when I listen to Lennon.
I drive fast at night with the windows rolled down to old Deftones.
I drive slow during the day with the windows rolled down to Echo and the Bunnymen.
I pretend to be cool when I listen to V.U. and Discount Guns.
I hide my collection of Lisa Loeb.
I invariably smile to the song ‘Searchlight’ by Aloha.
I like all music for the bedroom, but I prefer a tense voice with a steady cadence. (Great Northern, Silverchair, etc.)
I write letters to people while I listen to Hem.
I imagine being back home when I hear Matchbox 20.
I even think things when Peabo Bryson comes on.

The words become part of the moment.  The words become part of the whisky, part of the drive, part of the terrain, the outside, the world, the life, the lover… the moment.

And all we have is a moment.

The lyric that I hate the most, because it’s true –

“I gave me heart to the Army, the only sentimental thing I could think of.”  (Hell, the whole damn song… I do love this song though.)