Band Bad: The National
Warning: take temperature rising.
Not that hipster was ever a particularly useful word, but The National and their fan base are particularly useful in comprehending just how worthless a designation it’s become. You see, The National are a band designed to appeal to a certain subset of ‘hipsters.’ This subset lives in ‘gut renovated’ apartments on the Williamsburg Waterfront, attend cross fit classes and conspicuously read copies of Lolita on the subway. They’re immaculately dressed and coiffured at all times and work lucrative jobs for creative agencies. They’re ‘hip’ in that they always look good in pictures from summer music festivals, but otherwise they’re just yuppies in leather jackets.
The National make ‘cinematic’ music that make you feel like you’re living through a pivotal moment of a middling Focus Features movie. It’s incidental music that signifies thoughtfulness but is best enjoyed in situations where you don’t have to think about it. In other words, it’s music that is specifically built to listen to on Apple ear buds while staring wistfully out a bus window. It’s music sanded down to a sleek sheen, shorn of any idiosyncrasies that couldn’t fit into a pair of snug designer jeans. They write break-up songs for twenty somethings; sure it’s sort of sad but, damn, are those some low stakes.
The National is, perhaps, the perfect band for our gentrifying times. They gesture at more interesting and complex concepts with a shrug while churning out a car commercial ready facsimile. Their conflicted anthems are a perfect mirror to the impersonal glass towers that now dot North Brooklyn’s streets. It’s because of this that The National have reached a level of fame and sustained critical adoration that is virtually unheard of in contemporary rock music. Pitchfork, of all places, may have inadvertently hit the nail on the head with Paul de Revere’s fawning ‘Alligator at 10’ Feature:
The National’s trajectory over the last decade-plus mirrors Brooklyn itself: transplantation, sudden growth, rapid gentrification. As a sense of place, Brooklyn plays an essential part in the National’s story, namely Alligator’s. It’s in the album’s inebriated blood, the home and hearth of its interior landscape. To let Alligator tell it, the National’s Brooklyn is an almost bucolic escape from the city, where all the wine is for them.
Sure, The National can have all the rosé they want, but when the bartender tells you that even the PBR is $5 now, you’ll know who to blame: the well dressed sad sacks playing corn hole in the backyard.