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The National

Post-modernism loves a ripe, juicy contradiction. Words like bittersweet and achingly tender sum up the beautiful tragedy of millennial existence, the quest to make meaning out of mystery. They also describe the wistful, faded glory that the National's third full-length lowers on the listener. There's an almost palpable autumnal sensation that is, like transition, powerfully pungent as long as you pay attention. Fortunately, this NYC five-piece interweaves its noirish chamber pop with glistening guitars and complex vocal arrangements, weighting seemingly simple, alt-rock song structures with emotional gravitas and desperate beer-buddy charm. Like a less maudlin Peter Murphy or Morphine's Mark Sandman minus the smack hangover, lead throat Matt Berninger imbues each lyric with the wrung-out wit of a grad school dropout, desperate for human contact but alienated by his own intellect. The shadowy opener "Secret Meeting" sets the downcast mood, Berninger backed by two sibling duos (Aaron and Bryce Dessner on guitars and Scott and Bryan Devendorf on bass and drums, respectively), dialed in as only brothers can be. Despite its title, "Baby, We'll Be Fine" might be the album's gloomiest tune, and "Abel," a confused tale of powerlessness and instability, resounds like an anthem. The National is probably one of those critical darlings that'll never get the mainstream recognition it deserves, but Alligator makes the band's case brilliantly.
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Jonathan Zwickel

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