The National's Anthems

If Springsteen is right, the glory days for Brooklyn's best rock band may lie just ahead

Which is fine, which is fine. It's a grower, from a band that seems to specialize in growers. Alligator didn't catch fire immediately; Matt notes that a few publications gave it mediocre reviews initially, only to circle around months later with much louder, much more favorable opinions. Boxer, too, may take a while to settle in. This is by design. "The songs we end up getting the most attached to when we're making a record are the ones that grew on us," Matt says. Aaron is even blunter: "We usually throw out the catchiest ones, because they sound like we were forcing it."

"Often the songs that are immediate for us, that are immediate and catchy, they're appealing because they're familiar in some way," Matt explains. "Those songs, after three or four listens, they lose their shine. They don't hold our interest as much. It's the odd ducks that stick with us."

That oddness is doubly true of the National's lyrics—Matt is prized for a bizarre, non sequitur sensibility that results in opening lines like "They're gonna send us to prison for jerks." And though Boxer song titles like "Fake Empire" and "Start a War" suggest a blatant, Bright Eyes sort of political screed, in reality Matt tries to set societal calamity in the background this time: something on the TV, something his characters wish to disconnect from and avoid. The term he's settled on is "fuzzy-headed."

The Radio City marquee looms just outside as he explains this, of course. Playing there—the elaborate pageantry of it all—gives him a queasy Miss Saigon sort of feeling, he jokes. Like or not, though, as subtle as the National tries to play it, a spring awakening seems to have already begun.


The National play Bowery Ballroom May 28 through June 1, sold out as hell, boweryballroom.com.

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