Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Patrick Stolley
There is a lot of experienced wisdom in an epigraph such as, "Nothing good ever happens after midnight," although saying it and meaning it and believing it would take crossed fingers behind the backs of all sayers for it excludes a lot of romper, much of the gross national product of stimulating bittersweetness and a helluva bulky share of poignancy - grounded and livable poignancy. When the sky's been emptied of all color and knocked out cold, there's that eerie stillness to contend with. Everything's louder when it's visible. The heavy black night levies a spell on all when the clocks ding deep enough into it, when the sleeping things are closer to morning than they are to dinner.
It's at this point in the evening when the cards get folded or the dealing continues and playing on is for the prospectors, whose tolerance for the risks and rewards curve is heroically high. This is the land of sober sense and cold reasoning, but also a playground for dalliances with foolish wagers and devil's brew. It's a land where the talking stops and men and women take their relationships to the mattress, to die or to galvanize them against all possible contrivances and conditions. It's usually the former that takes shape and burns through the superficialities of the daytime hours. A night - a midnight - tolerates no bullshit. The chips will lie on the table, placed down voluntarily, and the decisions of the council of pre-dawn are final, and harsh.
New York band The National brokers in all of the midnight hues and lead singer Matt Berninger is an established streetlamp - crackling and hissing and sprinkling overtop of you like a "Stranger Than Fiction" narration - and has a voice that's as stiff as a drink, any drink. They create nights that spin out of control, but remain in one solitary place - going fast forward and slowing down to a crawl all in the same instance. The band's absolutely aces new disc Boxer showcases a confluence of majestic darkness and resolute firmament, taken hostage by a flood of portent and there's no telling how it's all going to turn out, really.
Berninger is the master of ceremonies with a croon that gives depth to desperation and hopelessness, but then there's an underlying stream of confidence and aloof defiance in the calm collectedness that seems to allude that it's really going to be okay for this dictionary reader. There's an invested regard for the great searches in life in all of the work of this dedicated band of brothers (two sets - the Devendorfs and the Dessners), Berninger and Padma Newsome, which had been plugging away for what seems to have been an eternity before last year's breakthrough, The Alligator, finally caught more attentions.
Boxer starts with Berninger singing, "Stay out super late tonight/Pickin' apples/Makin' pies/Put a little somethin' in our lemonade and take it with us/We're half-awake in a fake empire," and as it goes, we stay drowsy like the protagonist, but the empire becomes completely real and expressive. There are many characters tethered to others for unavoidable reasons, for reasons that can't be evaded. They are numerous and the many ways that love can claim possession make regular appearances throughout the record.
The way we can appreciate these situations is by understanding that love and the many trappings are mostly vampings and improvisations - similar they only occasionally are. This allows the questions and analysis to go on perpetually and persistently until there's either a splitting headache or a sense of wonder such as the one that Berninger and the rest of the group - perfect for one another in their touch and comprehension of how much restraint and drive they might need to accomplish the goal at hand. It's a journey to the end of the night where, as the Babylonians believed the world was flat, so is that spoken of night. It sits there with a dark, unseen drop-off that you'll know when you find because of the pit in your stomach.
The Daytrotter interview:
*Is the consecutive sellout streak still intact? Where did it start? At what point were you thinking, 'Holy shit, we've sold out a few shows in a row no.'?*
Matt Berninger: Yeah, it's still going. We're not used to it. We went for so long playing in front of almost no one that every time we pull up to a venue we still have a sinking feeling that it could be another empty show. Something we call an "0-fer."
*If the Alligator and the Boxer fought in the mixed martial arts style, which do you see winning?*
MB: I think Boxer would just stand back and let Alligator swing itself into exhaustion. It would probably end up a split decision.
*How is Copenhagen? Has it been a while since you were last overseas? Who in the group is the worst flier, if there is one?*
MB: Copenhagen is muddy but the people are nice and tall. Bryan is the worst flier. His legs are about 11 feet long and his temper is short.
*What's the dumbest way you've ever gotten hurt?*
MB: I ran across the street a few years ago in Boston to put a quarter in the meter and ran directly into the side of a Lincoln Town car going about 40mph. I was thrown impressively high into the air and landed next to school bus full 7 year olds. They loved it.
*Sounds like the Roskilde Festival took a weather beating? What's it like? Any one you're excited about seeing or already saw?*
MB: Tried to see The Who but my legs gave out. The mud was sometimes knee high. We were ants in chocolate pudding.
*Have you enjoyed the steady, slow gain in popularity that you guys have had in your career or do you wish you had the easy button to speed it up?*
MB: If I had known there was an easy button I would have done it that way.
*From whence do you derive all of the ominous feel for your lyrics and throat? Do you see that being a feeling you want people to hear in your songs?*
MB: I never think of our songs as ominous. I think they very emotionally well-rounded. There's a lot of levity and optimism but that seems to get overlooked because of my voice.
*Are your songs misappropriated as sad songs?*
MB: Some are sad but even those have silver linings and bluebirds in the clouds
*Is it important to you that your lyrics read like literature?*
MB: No. It's important to me that they are NEVER read like literature. Without the music they don't work. They'd be like a dress without the girl.
*What are you reading right now?*
MB: The Sun Also Rises for the second time. The first time I read it in high school I didn't realize the guy had been castrated. I never understood why he didn't get with Brett.
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