This is Heartcore

first_imgCincinnati sextet The National have been one of music’s best kept secrets over the past 5 years. With the release of their fourth album, Boxer, they have finally started to find the attention their wide-eyed melancholic rock has long deserved. The seeds of their momentum were sown with 2005’s Alligator, an album among the best of the decade so far and a slow-burning critical success. They seemed to exist in a bubble for most of their career, outside hype and fashion, sounding nothing like their peers and drawing instead from the soft romanticism of Nick Cave and Tindersticks. Their albums are quintessential ‘growers’; they have a habit of creeping up on you when you least expect it, in the way that great albums do. Because of this, they have a devoted fan-base. To know The National is to love them. Lead singer and lyricist Matt Berninger is phlegmatic about the gentle trajectory of their career: ‘We had been operating in the dark for so long that we started to just accept the fact that we’d always be overlooked. We’ve tried to just focus on the songs and not worry so much about the rest of it. That being said, we’re very happy that people are now starting to pay attention. We didn’t expect Boxer to get the attention that it has. It’s very satisfying.’ Where do they see themselves fitting in? ‘We tried to start our own scene. We called it “heartcore”’, Berninger replies, ‘but it never caught on.’ After the word-of-mouth acclaim garnered by Alligator and the resulting extensive tour, how did the band cope with the follow-up? ‘Boxer took a very long time to get right. There were moments when we thought we would never figure it out. By the time we finished it we had lost all perspective. It wasn’t until I took it home after mastering and laid down on my couch with a bottle of wine that I realised how good it was. It was a huge relief.’ Berninger’s lyrics have always been intensely personal, and Boxer sees him react to the realities of being in an international touring band. ‘One of the main reasons Boxer took so long was because I needed to reconnect and go back to work and walk around the neighbourhood. A lot of it is about the struggle to stay connected and hold on to the things that matter.’ While many successful artists write about the burdens of touring and dealing with the media, Berninger sings about the struggle to keep grounded in an unpretentiously human way. It is this humanity that forms one of the major appeals of The National. They are everymen. This becomes particularly clear in person. While the band are remarkably adept in the live arena, transforming the dynamics of many of their songs, Berninger remains charmingly embarrassed onstage. ‘I’m not a natural showman. There are times when I wish I could crawl through the floor, but there are also moments of exhilarating happiness. I wish I could control it.’ Yet his deep baritone coupled with the intensity of his fellow musicians make for a compelling live experience. After the plaudits garlanded on Boxer in 2007’s end of year polls, this year sees the release of A Skin, A Night, a short film about the band made by young French director Vincent Moon and an appearance at All Tomorrow’s Parties in May.by Carl Cullinanelast_img read more