The National guitarist Aaron Dessner will remember the era of "Alligator" fairly well in the future. As the band wrote, recorded and rehearsed its newest album (and debut for Beggars Banquet), Dessner
The National guitarist Aaron Dessner will remember the era of "Alligator" fairly well in the future. As the band wrote, recorded and rehearsed its newest album (and debut for Beggars Banquet), Dessner suffered a collapsed lung, wrecked his sister's car and his back gave out.
"It happened over a time loaded with tension for me," he recalls. "At the end of it, it was a feeling of triumph. It began with anxiety but ended with hope, belief and confidence."
Dessner's experience isn't dissimilar to the album itself: "Alligator" is a rock album that grew its legs out of build-ups and let-downs. No guitar chokes the other, the bass is heavy-laden and a pinch of strings or space makes it all more vulnerable. The group is rounded out by Dessner's twin brother Bryce, fellow siblings Scott and Bryan Devendorf and vocalist Matt Berninger.
In a baritone that is lusty and direct, Berninger sings about being a loser ("I used to be carried in the arms of cheerleaders" from "Mr. November") and, at times, a winner ("I'm a festival/I'm a parade" from "All the Wine").
"The songs were all about whatever mood I was in," Berninger says. "Right now it's all about being an adult, moving along from adolescent bullshit and struggling with responsibility. I'm older."
Indeed, the whole band has matured, its music now infused with difficult finger-picking progressions, atmospheric builds and diverse rhythms. "Alligator" succeeds 2004's "Cherry Tree" EP and, more notably, 2003's melancholy "Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers," a spiraling, lasting kiss-off album of depressing relationships tinged with folk melodies.
"Alligator," while still sensitive, is more aggressively rock, particularly on cuts like first single "Abel" and "Mr. November." The band knew it had achieved something important when members found themselves wanting to listen to their own album once it was finished.
"We really took some chances. Matt took chances with his range. We were writing more instinctually and found that we were more musically sure of ourselves," Dessner says. "We just brought in different tastes, our influences. The record's a sonic Frankenstein."
The National has gradually built an audience in the States, but its profile is higher in Europe, particularly in Britain and France. "People just fell in love with it. It was just a few fanatic reviews from little papers," Dessner says, "but then we're suddenly playing this boat in the middle of Paris! We're still kind of giddy, really. I mean, this is fun."
The Dessners' musical alliance with Bryan Devendorf dates back to the band they formed in high school, Project Nim. They all coincidentally settled in New York after college, and eventually the National took life with the addition of Berninger. They had jobs that allowed them to tour every now and again, or at least had the fortune of quitting their jobs only to be allowed to "crawl back."
"In New York, anything is possible. It's a healthy place to be in a band. But it's really hard to half-ass it," Dessner says. "You have to be delusional to try music here," Berninger concurs. "It's something magical about playing and being a band here; something just kicks you in the ass. You have to fight to the top. And we're proud of that."