The National – Sex and Violets – EYE (6.2.10)

My conversation with The National’s Aaron Dessner leads to a consideration of the band’s immaculately crafted midlife-crisis indie-rock.

The word “cinematic” gets tossed around a lot as an indie rock descriptor — usually to explain the sonic scope of an instrumental passage or densely layered orchestral embellishments. With Brooklyn’s The National, “cinematic” can be used much more literally: the music is very much like a film. Their songs play like carefully staged scenes with skewed lighting and ambiguous dialogue. As a listener, you are immediately thrust into them and have to feel your way around in order to understand just what’s going on. It could be a woman in long red socks and red shoes pissing in a sink, super-late-night revelers with “a little something” in their lemonade or a lover with his head on the hood of a car taking it too far.

In most cases, the word-images are part of a larger narrative — an exploration of that period between youthful excess and settling into the less exciting person you will inevitably become. It’s indie rock on the verge of a mid-life crisis — music as a Wes Anderson tragicomedy.

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