May 12, 2010 § Leave a comment
For some time I’ve wondered why The National present themselves the way they do. Dim light. Black, white, gray, dark blue. Always dressed like Brooks Brothers models. Sometimes I imagine a meeting they had early in their professional career where they decided to dress up a bit more to create more distance between the music and reality. While the aura extends beyond music videos to their live performance, I think The National have a tendency to be too introverted, to come off as removed. This only feels disconcerting because their music is populist (read: the same way The Hold Steady are populist in the eyes of their audience) in tone and message.
But then what may appear as binary oppositions can amount to a sort of Brechtian realism. In ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’, Matt Berninger’s lyrics feel so intimate that the bourgeois appearances fall away: “I still owe money to the money to the money I owe/I never thought about love when I thought about home”. Those fancy clothes become a self-conscious hoax. He’s wearing them because he didn’t have time to change before going to the bar after work. In live performance, Berninger seems so genuinely unhappy that we guess he’s really feeling what he’s saying. In another song off their new record (High Violet), he repeats, “What makes you think I’m enjoying being led to the flood?” He yells it. The situation is god awful, but he’ll let his suit get wet.
The suits and the darkness also align with confessional imagery. Repentance and absolution. But there are so many moments where The National retreat from this sort of intimacy that I am not too confident in backing these claims. I haven’t ruled out the idea that these guys may just dress this way.