I was admittedly skeptical at first after hearing fans praise indie darlings The National as one of the most consistent bands of the past century. Then I decided to check out their latest effort, the beautifully nuanced Sleep Well Beast, and I completely understood why these lamenting gentlemen have been herald as one of this century’s best. From 2005s Alligator where they arguably began their peak, to the aforementioned Sleep Well Beast, these guys have barely missed a step. Here are ten of my favourite songs to show you why.
“Fake Empire” – Boxer’s opening track is a glittery, elegant waltz that shows just how much of a grip these men have on their craft.
“Bloodbuzz Ohio” – Probably The National’s most well known single outside of “Apartment Story,” this slow-building gem is a classic among fans.
“Mr November” – If you want to hear The National play an adrenaline-laced rock epic this is where you go.
“Sea of Love” – The sweeping, anthemic chorus paired with some of the best vocal melodies during its conclusion make this one a classic.
“Runaway” – This acoustic heartbreaker is just one of the many highlights on High Violet but it can become a little overdone by its end which is why it barely misses the list.
10. “The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness” – Sleep Well Beast (2017)
To kick off the list proper I’ve picked “The System….” because it’s the perfect summary of where the band is right now and a sample of where they could be heading. The track, along with the album it’s on, plays around with much brighter production compared to its predecessor’s murky muffle. As a result, the song has a real airy feel to it and the accompanying instrumentation is immense.
9. “I Need My Girl” – Trouble Will Find Me (2013)
“I Need My Girl” is a gorgeous ode to love and empathy in the face of self-doubt and depression. When we’re at the end of our ropes the knowledge that someone loves and cares for us even at our worst is something we should never take for granted. Even if you aren’t married (like myself) this track can apply to anyone who you share a loving and supportive bond with. I become incredibly grateful for those around me whenever I hear this one.
8. “City Middle” – Alligator (2005)
If I had to pick the most underrated The National song I don’t think I’d even need to think about my answer. “City Middle” isn’t talked about much but it is a lovely tune through and through. It isn’t as grand as other tracks on Alligator but the elegant chorus and the chanting vocals make this one a classic in my eyes.
7. “Conversation 16” – High Violet (2010)
By the strength of its chorus alone, “Conversation 16” easily sits among the band’s best, but paired with the bridge and it becomes one of the best moments in their entire discography. “I was afraid, I’d eat your brains / ‘Cause I’m evil!”
6. Graceless – Trouble Will Find Me (2013)
A song with the band members in fancy suits jumping into pools, swinging on playground equipment, and bouncing on inflatable castles? Only a good song could pair with that kind of video and “Graceless” is a stunner in every way. It’s elegant and pop-inspired without sounding foreign.
5. Guilty Party – Sleep Well Beast (2017)
Sleep Well Beast is in all respects a modern tragedy. It’s an exploration of the loss of human connection our society has embraced at large and “Guilty Party” is the pinnacle of that cold reality. As the main character laments his falling out with the person he loved, not having a good reason for the disconnect aside from a sneaking distance between them, he starts to feel the pain of that loss as it “….catches up to him.” It’s a heartwrenching listen and one of the best tracks these gentlemen have written to date.
4. The Geese of Beverly Road – Alligator (2005)
It’s all too easy to describe The National’s music as “elegant” but there really is no other word that does them justice. “The Geese of Beverly Road” is musical elegance. It’s an extravagant nighttime waltz with bright hopes and even brighter smiles.
3. Sorrow – High Violet (2010)
One of The National’s most iconic ballads, “Sorrow” is an ambient indie rock gem that perfectly sums up High Violet’s musical approach. In true National fashion, its subject matter isn’t the most inspiring or uplifting but with music as well crafted as this sorrow may indeed find you if you pass it up.
2. Slow Show – Boxer (2007)
The middle of The National’s 2007 effort may be one of the strongest string of songs ever put on tape. “Green Gloves” to “Start a War” is a flawless run but the middle two, in particular, are something special. “Slow Show” is a gentle waltz about a downtrodden man worried that he is going to, in some way, mess up a romantic night. With a song as beautiful as this I don’t think that’s possible.
1. Apartment Story – Boxer (2007)
Coming straight off the heels of “Slow Show” is, in my eyes, the best song these men have written so far. “Apartment Story” is three and a half minutes of musical bliss, and like “The Geese of Beverly Road” before it, it’s carefree and oh so fun. The second half where the band let loose and sing “So worry not, all things are well / We’ll be alright, we have our looks and perfume / Stay inside till somebody finds us / Do whatever the TV tells us / Stay inside our rosy-minded fuzz and worry not” is one of my all-time favourite moments of music. It’s simply superb.