Saturday, July 24, 2010

Track Review: “Little Faith” by The National

Songs by The National uniformly have momentum: you get the sense you’re being carried somewhere, even if the destination is shrouded in Matt Berninger’s lyrics. But getting there often means taking a song and bending it in new directions. On the band’s fourth album, Boxer, these moments are striking: the steady piano march postscript to “Slow Show,” which shuts the door on whatever optimism the song had to that point generated; or near the mid-point of “Guest Room,” when Berninger bows out briefly and we’re left with a nervous guitar line that gives the song one final push towards its conclusion.

Little Faith,” the fourth track on the National’s latest full-length, High Violet, produces such a moment and gives it all the room it needs to grow. It’s a shame, then, that the track could be dismissed as an interlude: the two tracks that follow complement each other so perfectly that they easily steal most of the attention in the middle-third of the album. (The anxiety that builds throughout the fifth track, “Afraid of Everyone,” is finally swept away in the cathartic refrain in “Bloodbuzz Ohio.”) But “Little Faith” is the National is at its brooding best, with Berninger ruminating on the dangerous consequences of having nothing to do with nowhere to go. While Berninger’s rich baritone usually emerges as the centerpiece of the National’s songs, the instrumentation here gets the proper creative treatment. Two-thirds of the way into “Little Faith,” the percussion stops for a moment and strings turn figure 8s around a pitter-patter guitar melody, giving Berninger just the right context to admit that he’s in on your little secret: “Don’t be bitter, Anna / I know how you think / You’re waiting for Radio City to sink.” That gorgeous image of clouds parting? Yeah, I saw it too. This is no ordinary bridge. It’s a revelation.

[4.5 out of 5 stars]


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