There were plenty of excellent tracks this year, and there’ll be another playlist to that effect in the next few days, but right at the top is this double-header. Having been responsible for my second favourite album of 2010, ‘High Violet’, The National were a band I wasn’t expecting to hear anything new from this year, particularly in light of the expanded edition of the album having appeared to mop up anything else we hadn’t heard.
But then in March came the quiet release of ‘Think You Can Wait’, from the soundtrack to ‘sports comedy-drama’ ‘Win Win’. It was initially just available as a download and very little fuss was made about it. Which is, frankly, ridiculous. With an echoing piano refrain we’re underway before the vocal delivery so beautifully presented on the slower moments of ‘High Violet’ puts in another appearance. What really elevates this track to greatness is the sparingly used backing vocal of Sharon Van Etten whose lulling tones sit beneath Matt Berninger’s voice as if they were made to be together. Similarly, the melding of strings and piano towards the end of the song is as close I’m ever going to get to describing a piece of music as poetic. Just as certain tracks – for me ‘Lemonworld’ and ‘Sorrow’ – on ‘High Violet’ crept up on you over time, while the big guns initially held your attention, ‘Think You Can Wait’ possesses a slightly hypnotic rhythm, delicately lulling you into submission and provoking the gentle headphone-wearer’s nod. As a one-off single, it had no right to be this good. I felt spoilt.
However, as if this wasn’t enough, in April we were treated to ‘Exile Vilify’ from the ‘Portal 2’ soundtrack. Built around stately piano, topped off with gorgeous baritone backing vocals and anxious strings, it is a wonder to behold. I rarely play things twice in one go. If I’m reviewing an album on a short deadline it might happen but otherwise it needs to be something truly stunning to have me starting it over again straight away. The day I downloaded ‘Exile Vilify’, I think I must have played it nine or ten times in a row, and all it did was make me love it more and more. It moved me to tears, it got inside my head, it left me amazed that this was even better than ‘Think You Can Wait’, albeit not by too much. The whole thing proceeds at a solemn pace, with cathartic swells and great lines like ”You’re thinking too fast, like marbles on glass.” Try listening only once.
Having received such a warm response, the band decided to put these two songs out as a double A-sided transparent 7” vinyl. It’s a glorious little item, released via their website only but it still seems a massive shame that these two songs are destined to become a footnote to the ‘High Violet’ era of The National. Had they been on the album, they’d have been rightly lauded for the fine, fine songs they are. The tracks remain available to download or stream separately, but if you buy the (admittedly not cheap) vinyl pressing you’ll have a delicious physical item and access to lossless downloads of both songs. Treat yourself, it’s Christmas.
By clicking on the cover, as with every Best of 2011 post, you can load the music I’m talking about. However, as they were initially released separately, you’ll need to go here for ‘Exile Vilify’. It‘s worth it.