Forgive Me, For I Used to Hate The National


Cameron Conner, Staff Writer

As much as it pains me to admit this, until recently I really could not stand The National. I used to let out an ominous hiss at the sight of my peers posting grayscale pictures of whatever their newest album was at the time. I found comfort in perpetually rolling my eyes at the thought of people actually enjoying what I referred to as ‘sad-dad-music’. However, I, like many others before me, have fallen victim to the devious war of musical attrition the Brooklyn-based five piece wage. These days, I choose to identify myself as a diehard National fan, posting the same grayscale pictures that had once been the object of my scorn.

All it took was one song.

The National is the epitome of the “I hate that band, except for that one song” stereotype, and that “one song” is different for everyone. Every song is layered and wrapped in emotions and musical brilliance that it does not take long before the listener is hooked.  The way Matt Berninger’s velvet baritone cracks at a song’s emotional zenith, the haunting wail of the Dessner brothers’ guitars, or the slow-burning, intricate roar of the rhythm section, made up of Bryan and Scott Devendorf, all serve as instant attractors to the deepest confines of the listener’s mind. No matter what it is that piques the subconscious of the listener, The National will do much more than get stuck in the mind; they will bring out something that was always there. Like some sort of enlightenment catalyst, the soundscapes The National calmly treads upon bring emotions to bear in the starkest, most genuine way. Of course, before I fell in love with this sort of audio induced reverie, I only heard a collection of forty year old men wailing away at their melancholy.

I heard “Terrible Love”, the opening track off The National’s critically acclaimed fifth album, High Violet, countless times. I grimaced at the sound of the delay-drenched guitars as they bounced off one another while Berninger sang, “It’s a terrible love, and I’m walking with spiders” over and over again. The song sluggishly reared up to its full height, bearing its ugly melancholy head as the peak ascended.  The dynamics revved up, the energy practically radiated through the speakers; I hated it.

I hated it; I hated it; I hated it. I considered it useless drivel, at the very most. Holy Calvin Klein, did I hate it. I hated it so much that I listened to it again just so I could remind myself of the hate I felt, and another time after that… and another time after that until I had listened to the whole entire album cover to cover and found myself in the fetal position on my bed with tears streaming down my face. It was almost like I had stumbled into some sort of exclusive, cathartic hovel where emotions only existed in their most primal form, for seemingly in the blink of a proverbial eye I found myself completely enthralled with this group of depressed old guys bearing their dread on their instruments.


I found my emotions stemmed from the overwhelmingly vulnerable and unashamedly dirty, rawness of it all; the way that the pillars of struggle, heartbreak, and the stark contempt of urban decay practically filter into your pores as the songs flow from one level of emotional nuance to the next. It was almost as if I had been walking around my whole life in a house eerily lit, cursing myself as I stumbled across the linoleum, all the while passing a myriad of light switches. For when I first really let myself feel The National and listened with more than just my ears, I discovered the true brilliance of the art they have created.

Again and again I have heard The National described as a “grower not a shower” or a “slow burn” band, but in essence, they are so much more. The music they have created is so grounded in the experiences and trials of life and is so heartbreakingly real that one can only truly appreciate the beauty when one is at their most vulnerable. As a band that creates extremely honest art, their listener must be prepared to be honest themselves.