BEST OF 2013: 8. The National – Trouble Will Find Me

There’s a moment at the end of ‘I Need My Girl’ when several layers of whirling synth collide, seeming to take off and leave the song behind. Within twenty seconds, they drop back down to earth and themselves disappear into ‘Humiliation’. It is a small moment on a big album, but it’s one of a considerable number of delicately manoeuvred sonic tingles to be found herein.

This is the album by The National that all made sense first time, whether it’s because of how well primed we all are now or the simple fact that, like R.E.M. before them, they have refined their sound to the point where we approach within certain parameters, waiting to be delighted. Having said, when writing about Midlake, that we don’t actually want our favourite bands to keep doing the same thing, I can’t pretend I wasn’t delighted to be on the receiving end of a new album by The National with obvious lineage from ‘Boxer’ and ‘High Violet’. It is, once again, a step on but both musically and commercially, they seem to be an unrelenting upward trajectory. The only downside to this that occasionally curdles in the mind is the concern as to how many more steps there are to U2 territory?

Not that such gory thoughts are needed right now. The classic slow-fast-slow mechanism is deployed liberally, but that is not to say it has grown tired, for who else is quite so adept at those often euphoric gear changes right now? It is a mighty skill and one which sits neatly alongside their devotion to detail. Matt Berninger’s vocals continue to tread the delicate line between somnambulant mumble and cerebral ache, rich and inviting at all points. ‘Demons’ was a fine choice of track with which to tease the album’s arrival, its juddering pace and almost grudging vocal the perfect vehicle for some fantastically evocative lyrics. “I am secretly in love with, everyone that I grew up with,” taps into a whole world of peculiar regrets and self-doubt, expanding on it with the exasperated, if wry, “when I walk into a room, I do not light it up… fuck!” The imagery of songs like ‘Karen’ (“to ballerina on the coffee table, cock in hand”) may have been scaled back but the guard has been dropped a little as a song title like the afore-mentioned ‘I Need My Girl’ confirms.

The troubling twitch at the heart of ‘Sea Of Love’ is glorious, the sheer intensity of the verses building to a point of claustrophobia. The song’s brilliant video actually captures this perfectly, despite doing very little at all. During the weeks of obsessive listening that resulted from the album’s arrival, ‘Fireproof’ was the standout track, with its focus on dealing with someone who never cracks under the strain, who never seems to weaken. The skittering percussion is intermittently undercut by a warped drone and the troubled strings confirm the anxiety at the song’s heart.

However, with months having passed and many, many plays of the record along, it is ‘Pink Rabbits’ to which I now gravitate most keenly. Partly, it was Caitlin Rose‘s truly magical take on this song that made me fully appreciate its powers, (the Rose version really has to be heard, if only for the transcendent delivery of the line “Now I only think about Los Angeles when the sun kicks out.” Seriously, strap yourself, sit back and prepare a moist eye,) but I increasingly found myself delighted to be in the latter stages of the album because of what was still to come.  No dumping of the stooge in the wasteland of track numbers in double figures here. The expression of the pain of unrequited love in this song – “I was a television version of a person with a broken heart” – is another example of Berninger’s knack for a lyric, a stand out line amongst many other crackers. The closing refrain of “you said it would be painless, it wasn’t that at all” might well have been the best place to leave ‘Trouble Will Find Me’ as, although ‘Hard To Find’ is no slacker, the emotions have peaked.

I find The National hard to write about. I had the exact same problem when ‘High Violet’ knocked me for six three years ago. This particular fact perhaps highlights better than a paragraph or three just why their albums are so special. They feel right, like a nicely cut suit or an expensive pair of shoes. Their music seems to mould itself to your emotions and to swell like a gas when you need it. They can be all-consuming and utterly essential when you need that tune to steady yourself. This is an excellent album, entirely deserving of the plaudits it has received. But, to me, it’s more than that. You’ll just have to take my word for it.

Just Played’s Festive Jangle

Every year I put together a substantial Christmas playlist which then goes everywhere around the house and on the iPod for travelling. It keeps us suitably festive for the several weeks in which listening to such merriment is considered the norm. This year’s is particularly ace. Unfortunately, I can’t share about half of it because its on charity albums, an old free band download or just not on Spotify. However, I do have a 12 track sample on Spotify for you, along with some tips for what else to go hunting for now that your mind is fully on trees, mince pies and low-level arguments.

Click HERE for JUST PLAYED’S FESTIVE JANGLE – Spotify Edit

Plus… go here and buy the two For Folk’s Sake Christmas albums, which are for charity and bloody lovely. If you have to narrow it down, get this year’s for lovely stuff from Caitlin Rose, Kathryn Williams and The Leisure Society, not to mention Paper Aeroplanes and numerous other spiffers.

Then, go here for a free and utterly beautiful version of ‘Last Christmas’ by Ohbijou which will warm even the coldest heart.

Go here to download Lucky Soul’s lovely version of ‘Lonely This Christmas’ and then here is the lovely Caitlin Rose track ‘You Never Come Home From Christmas’ (if you need you appetite whetting before shelling out for all of the For Folk’s Sake Christmas album.)

You can get a sample of the lovely Rosie Thomas Christmas album, ‘A Very Rosie Christmas’ here and then the whole thing for only $5 if you fancy a download.

Summer Camp’s well suited cover of ‘Christmas Wrapping’ is here or get hold of their mashup of ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ and ‘Wonderful Christmastime’ here.

Finally, you can get the 6 Music Morning Show festive giveaways for the next few days for nowt from here.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!

3. Caitlin Rose–Own Side Now

Best of 2010When writing about Number 30 in this list, I mentioned a hastily rearranged after on the main stage at the Green Man Festival. Sweet Baboo was one of the acts to benefit from the late arrival of Mountain Man, the other being Caitlin Rose. While I still wish I’d seen her charm the pants off the small, more intimate crowd to which she had originally been booked to perform, her sudden elevation produced one of the highlights of the weekend. Having become acquainted with the album a week or two prior to this set, I was anticipating something special and was not disappointed. Rose’s perfect, country lilt is magical on record and a force of nature live. But let’s focus on the actual album.

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I reckon you could be sold on this record by hearing only one tune, the nearest thing to a title track, ‘Own Side’. Lyrically, it aches: “Who’s gonna take me home, ‘cos I don’t want to go it alone, who’s gonna want me when I’m just somewhere you’ve been?” Musically it aches too, a testament to the quite superb band Rose has assembled around her, each and every musician becalmed and respectful towards the material, responding to each song’s specific needs like a skilled surgeon. ‘For The Rabbits’ is an excellent showcase for her compelling vocal, ideally suited to squeezing every ounce of emotion out of the numerous narratives found across this hugely impressive record. The crescendo around the four minute mark is quite beautiful and the sort of thing that causes you to interrupt the flow of the record just so you can hear it again. Not that you would want to wait too long in case you didn’t get around to the musically buoyant and metaphorically sound ‘Shanghai Cigarettes’.

Then there’s the mellifluous joys of ‘Spare Me (Fetzer’s Blues)’ which gallops along with Rose’s vocal gliding endearingly across the stop and ‘Things Change’, which is as sombre and rumbling as you might imagine based on the title. There is a delicious, sonorous malevolence running underneath at times which keeps things on edge and seems entirely in keeping with the story told in the lyrics: “I’m leaving back where I come from, it is more bitter than sweet to see you with her.” Throw in a Fleetwood Mac cover, the melancholic ‘Sinful Wishing Well’, and charmingly swaggering album closer ‘Coming Up’ and you’ve get yourself a rather impressive debut outing.

Her early EP, ‘Dead Flowers’, is well worth seeking out, capturing as it does her more stripped down, raw sound rather well. It’s a fitting side dish to accompany the main course and you’d be advised to grab it before it disappears, should ‘Own Side Now’ have the impact I imagine it will. In the final weeks of 2010, this album has made a genuine case for being even higher in this list, and its resting place of 3 marks a climb from its initial placing when I first started to arranged a Top 30. It is an irresistible collection of tunes by an artist destined for big things, which is not to say that this isn’t an impressive way to get things underway. It really, truly is.

The Just Played Verdict: Caitlin Rose ‘Own Side Now’

I love an ‘oh, what was that’ moment. The radio’s on and you’re listening without really fully absorbing what’s going on then, the ears prick up, the brain engages and suddenly there’s something important happening. A piece of music you need to hear, need to have is playing and all of those little tingly receptors which ping around whenever we’re exposed to pleasurable things leap into action. The volume is frantically pushed up and, if you’re like me, you run across to the radio, needlessly positioning your ear near to the speakers, ready to receive that crucial information. A track from the fine new record by Caitlin Rose, ‘Own Sides Now’, had that very impact upon me earlier this week and I wasn’t wrong.

Caitlin Rose Own Side Now

I reckon you could be sold on this album by hearing only one tune, the nearest thing to a title track, ‘Own Side’. Lyrically, it aches: “Who’s gonna take me home, ‘cos I don’t want to go it alone, who’s gonna want me when I’m just somewhere you’ve been?” Musically it aches too, a testament to the quite superb band Rose has assembled around her, each and every musician becalmed and respectful towards the material, responding to each song’s specific needs like a skilled surgeon. ‘For The Rabbits’ is an excellent showcase for her compelling vocal, ideally suited to squeezing every ounce of emotion out of the numerous narratives found across this hugely impressive record. The crescendo around the four minute mark is quite beautiful and the sort of thing that causes you to interrupt the flow of the record just so you can hear it again. Not that you would want to wait too long in case you didn’t get around to the musically buoyant and metaphorically sound ‘Shanghai Cigarettes’.

Some of the more wistful, straight country songs like ‘New York’ bring to mind the greats, naturally enough, but also return attentions to the marvellous recent Mountain Man album, ‘Made The Harbor’. While the latter record is far more spacious and minimalist, those vocal similarities would suggest that if you like one, you’ll like the other and as I’m rather fond of ‘Made The Harbor’, forgive me for crow-barring this in. Do try it, if you haven’t yet though.

Caitlin-Rose

Then there’s the mellifluous joys of ‘Spare Me (Fetzer’s Blues)’ which gallops along with Rose’s vocal gliding endearingly across the stop and ‘Things Change’, which is as sombre and rumbling as you might imagine based on the title. There is a delicious, sonorous malevolence running underneath at times which keeps things on edge and seems entirely in keeping with the story told in the lyrics: “I’m leaving back where I come from, it is more bitter than sweet to see you with her.” Throw in a Fleetwood Mac cover, the melancholic ‘Sinful Wishing Well’, and charmingly swaggering album closer ‘Coming Up’ and you’ve get yourself a rather impressive debut outing.

Click the album cover above and you’ll go through to Caitlin Rose’s Myspace, where you can stream the record in its entirety. If you order now from Rough Trade, you get a free mix CD thrown in, which can’t be bad.

Own Side Now’ is available now on Names Recordings.

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