Review Summary: If I judged music only in terms of its genre I'd give this a perfect score.
What comes to mind when you think of The National? Alligator, Boxer, etc…but is their debut as good? There are masterpieces of songs to be found in those two albums, and while that isn’t the case on their self-titled it sure doesn’t ruin the atmosphere. Granted the band had been playing music together for about two years prior to releasing this but the consistency of the record parallels the efforts of the average indie-rock band two, three, or even four albums into their careers. This is the kind of refreshing, relaxing music that benefits from the similarities between songs; easy-listening perfected without unnecessary over-production or cheesy, all too accessible lyrics. Both the instrumental and vocal efforts are coherently performed and successfully planted the roots for a band that would eventually build upon this sound, all the while reminding us of their origin. The album paints a dreamy picture in the mind: sunshine, rich clouds, clear water, seagulls; tranquil and entirely earthly beauty. Never too heavy and never too soft, this album is like the musical equivalent of air conditioning.
Bottle eyes, glassy blue/I watch the rain come out of you
Sky is white with the flu/I'm terrified of losing you
If I go to the sea, I'll bring you down, down with me
If I go to the rain, you'll never see me again
Like many records that fall under the category of this genre, it sounds like a dedication to a special someone, apparently a lover. Someone who was optimistic company to a miserable poet. Matt Berninger's voice complements that poet with an emotionally aching, deep voice; he sounds like a recovering addict of powerful love which was obviously lost, returning to confidence vicariously through advice given to this person who must have been of some great importance. Perhaps even someone who birthed his child according to one of the best songs on the album, "Son".
if i were a spy in the world inside your head
would i be your wife in a better life you led?
The lyrics on the album are mostly reminiscent, guilty at some points, and even accusing. As for the pure quality of them I'd advocate any of the songs for the poetry expressed on this album is surely above average. The National are rightfully known for innovative and surreal lyricism. Sometimes they seemingly make no sense but they aren't so random that you'd think Berninger tossed them in for the sake of rhyme, kind of like a sweet mystery. Well executed rhyme schemes and with words from someone who clearly knows a verse or two of poetry, the album vocally delivers.
A common reaction to your first listen would be, "It all sounds mostly the same." Same thing happened to me. But with repeated sessions I learned the album has much
more to say, even instrumentally. Most of the record is comprised of the basic rock artillery consisting of acoustic and electric guitars, a bass, drums, and some electronic effects thrown in here and there. The instrumentation isn't cluttered, rather you can easily pinpoint what instrument is playing what notes on every single song. With such a lucid sound the album as previously mentioned retains a sort of mellow confidence, which is both uplifting and solemn according to the lyrical insinuation. An album that meshes so well between wording and non-human sound paraphernalia isn't one to be overlooked. Its an album to accompany a starry night in the cool breeze, or a bright day by the beach, or a rainy drive home. Relaxing, but with its fair share of "eargasmic" climaxes so to speak. A formidable opener to an illustrious musical career, recommended to anyone.