Sunday, 13 April 2008

Hipster Douchebag Music Recommendation Of The Week: "Slow Show" by The National

Actually that headline should probably read "Of The Fortnight", considering how I only got three weeks in before missing a week. Oops. Listen, I'm busy reading Zadie Smith and going to lectures by Elizabeth Wurtzel and then hanging out in coffee shops eating tiramisu; I don't always have time to sit here and post while redoing my dreads. (Actually I'm confusing myself with Ellen Page's character in Hard Candy, which we just watched. It was ball-slicingly brilliant!)

This week's selection is "Slow Show" by The National. Any of you Chuck or One Tree Hill watchers out there have probably already heard this song, as apparently it's been on both shows (as well as being used incessantly by the BBC promo department), which pisses me off a bit. Not because I don't like the shows (okay, not just because -- I know Chuck is bad by firsthand knowledge; One Tree Hill is just bad by reputation) but because this always happens to me. I seem to have an uncanny ability to hear of a singer or band just before the producers of TV shows and commercials do, and for maybe a few months I think I'm relatively alone in knowing the music, but my illusions are soon shattered when I hear the songs on CSI: Miami commercials (Antony and the Johnsons' heartbreakingly beautiful song "Hope There's Someone" was played over images of our redheaded hero saving children from terrorist Nazi clowns or whatever the hell was going on that week, and oh god I hope Antony Hegarty feels good about himself).

I don't know whether to be depressed at the way corporations co-opt "cool" bands to get themselves a bit of credibility (not that all TV shows are about corporate interests -- but in the case of the above TV shows, they were certainly trying to appear "down with the kids" and "jiggy wit' it" and "hep to that style, daddio"), or whether it's good that bands that are probably struggling financially get themselves more exposure and more fans. A bit of both, I suppose. I suppose it also means that the music the bands are making is more appealing to the masses than people assume, which can only be a good thing, really. I absolutely love a lot of mindless Top 40 pop music -- I'll confess here that a few years ago I could not stop playing Hilary Duff's "So Yesterday", which probably disqualifies me from douchebaggery entirely -- but it's really good to see when actually properly thoughtful and complex music gets popular. Of course, anything that is critically respected at first usually ends up suffering a massive backlash (see: Coldplay), but them's the breaks, I guess.

At any rate, here's the best video I could find -- set to Jean-Luc Godard's "Masculine-Feminine" because...well, just read the poster's description. The song starts about 30 seconds in.

I really like the rest of the album (Boxer), though I don't love it completely, and I haven't had the opportunity to listen to the rest of The National's output. But I adore this song. There's something addictive about the way it builds -- becoming (slightly) faster and peppier as the initially morose lyrics give way to cautious optimism (or is it?? Yes, it probably is).

Matt Berninger's voice would make the aforementioned "So Yesterday" sound like a funeral dirge, I have to admit, but the song has a self-deprecating quality even as it becomes more hopeful. (I think comparisons to Stuart Staples of the Tindersticks are quite apt -- the bands are even on the same label -- but I think Berninger has a bit less of a muffled subway announcer's drone. Though I may just feel this way because I had to sit through a Tindersticks concert of an album I didn't like one song on. Damn you, Admiral!!) [Again with the Tindersticks hatred? I'm cut to the core of my flamenco-tinged fandom. Excuse me while I depart in sadness, and walk through the rain to the nearest sleazy bar, where I will smoke a cigarette, dolefully drink whiskey, and stare in heartbreak at a picture of Jacques Brel behind the bar - Neck] It starts out with the words that probably go through every introvert's brain at a party:
Standing at the punch table swallowing punch
can’t pay attention to the sound of anyone
a little more stupid, a little more scared
every minute more unprepared

I made a mistake in my life today
everything I love gets lost in drawers
I want to start over, I want to be winning
way out of sync from the beginning

But as soon as we think that the singer's going to become more depressed as the song goes on, berating himself more and more, we get this sudden ray of hope for the chorus:
I wanna hurry home to you
put on a slow, dumb show for you
and crack you up
so you can put a blue ribbon on my brain
god I’m very, very frightening
I’ll overdo it

There's such self-hatred in the lyrics that they're hard to hear -- he thinks he'll even disappoint the person who loves him -- but there's hope and relief in them, too, at the knowledge that this person, at least, will give him some comfort. (Or there's cowardly wish to escape, but I prefer the former.) The second verse is more self-recrimination, and the second chorus more wishing that he were at home with his lover, but this time a little faster and lighter.

Then the song shifts, and we hear the mournful yet weirdly hopeful sound of an accordion -- which to me is the hook of the song -- and then a piano riff that will make you instantly recognize the song the next time you hear it, and some even more poignant lyrics:
You know I dreamed about you
for twenty-nine years before I saw you
You know I dreamed about you
I missed you for
for twenty-nine years

Which pretty much breaks your heart. It's a love song about depression, or perhaps even about someone who's loved unrequitedly for years. Either way it's simultaneously depressing and hopeful (have I said that already?), and that's all you can really ask for in a song. I'll be listening to this one for years.

1 comment:

sjwoo said...

Great selection, Canyon. The chorus makes this song for me. Two observations:

1) That piano riff...I know I heard it somewhere. Then I had it. (Click on "skip trailer" if you've already seen it.) Pretty cool, huh?

2) This guy's voice also reminds me of that Magnetic Fields guy.

Keep these recommendations coming. You're gonna make Mix 32 much easier for me to assemble!