The Na­tional

The Guardian Weekly - - Culture - Graeme Virtue Tour­ing Europe and North Amer­ica to 13 De­cem­ber, then US, Mex­ico, Aus­tralia and New Zealand in 2018

With their re­cent sev­enth record in­spir­ing an avalanche of re­spect­ful raves, it feels like the Na­tional and their abid­ing sense of emo­tional se­ri­ous­ness are fi­nally be­ing ush­ered into rock’s plat­inum club of all-time greats. On the first of two sold-out nights in Ed­in­burgh, the vet­eran Ohio band cer­tainly sig­nal their faith in the new al­bum Sleep Well Beast by rolling out 10 tracks from it. They in­clude, in a brood­ing open­ing quar­tet, the sur­pris­ingly ear-split­ting The Sys­tem Only Dreams in To­tal Dark­ness, a force­ful clat­ter of tom-toms and abrupt guitar barbs. Two songs in, and usu­ally lugubri­ous front­man Matt Berninger is sud­denly at­tack­ing the cho­rus with such in­ten­sity he seems in dan­ger of blow­ing out his voice.

Com­bin­ing art­fully ar­ranged angst with oc­ca­sional af­ter­burner blasts of volatil­ity is what gives the Na­tional such a mor­eish charge. Now with al­most two decades on the clock, they are a band tightly bound and driven by fa­mil­ial con­nec­tions, with the Dess­ner twin broth­ers on gui­tars (and oc­ca­sional key­board) and the Deven­dorf non-twin broth­ers on bass and drums. Per­haps so as not to feel left out, Berninger com­posed the prickly, dys­func­tion-plumb­ing lyrics of Sleep Well Beast with his wife Carin, tonight hymned in Carin at the Liquor Store, a last-or­ders, dive-bar piano shanty that ref­er­ences John Cheever, some­one else who knows a thing or two about exquisitely sketched vi­gnettes of sub­ur­ban un­ease.

Ra­dio­head have of­ten seemed like a use­ful ref­er­ence point, and not just be­cause both bands fea­ture vir­tu­osic broth­ers on guitar. The Na­tional sim­i­larly have no fear of the oc­ca­sional tricksy time sig­na­ture (the rue­ful, wrong-foot­ing I Should Live in Salt is an early high­light) while their re­cent Kid A-style skit­ter­ing beats have in­vited even more com­par­isons with the world’s reign­ing post-rock trage­di­ans. But the mum­bled, pro­fane epipha­nies of new song Walk It Back also bring to mind Arab Strap’s mix of gut­ter po­etry and slith­er­ing elec­tron­ics. The mi­nor-key spi­ral Afraid of Ev­ery­one gen­er­ates a seem­ingly un­likely mo­ment of sin­ga­long com­mu­nity. On their way to a right­eous four-song en­core – cli­max­ing with the ag­i­tated gospel of Ter­ri­ble Love – the Na­tional wring ev­ery last drop of cathar­sis from their for­lorn, fu­ri­ous canon.

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