Originally from Ohio and now based in New York, The National has created nearly a dozen picture-perfect Americana bar-soaked gems with its debut album. From the opening notes of “Beautiful Head”, the delicate line between polished roots-oriented pop and alt-country has rarely been walked so deliberately with the payoff so favorable.
Singer Matt Berninger will draw comparisons to Leonard Cohen at times, but Ryan Adams and even Tom Waits come to mind in certain instances. Particularly pretty is “American Mary”, which veers toward Wilco territory minus the spacey guitar-jangle climax.
Most of the songs revolve around booze, women and the difficulties and joys of both, including “Bitters & Absolut” and the twangy “Watching You Well”, the latter reminiscent of the Rolling Stones circa Let It Bleed. Only on “Son” does the idea of filler rear its ugly head.
The highlight by far is “Theory Of The Crows”, a slowly building waltz through everyday impersonal life and youthful dreams dashed. “And if I forget you/I’ll have nobody left to forget/I guess that’s what assholes get,” Berninger utters over a simple front-porch backbeat. Listening to it, you can imagine him ordering another double.