There are two types of hype machine on the market these days. Hype Machine 1: the uber-slick, expensive and highly attuned device, targeted specifically to meet all of our zeitgeisty requirements, usually driven by – and for – the masses. When it works it can be an impressive beast. You would have to have been living under a very large (and non disco ball shaped) rock not to have heard at least a little of the most recent Daft Punk single “Get Lucky”. The strategic placement of a one-minute advert during the American TV show Saturday Night Live displayed Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers (backed by the Punk’s robots in residence) in all their glitter-suited glory, and did a quite frankly magnificent job of alerting us to the groove heavy delights of the song.
Then of course there is Hype Machine 2, which is a defiantly more old school contraption requiring a definite dash of oil to start it up. But once firing on all cylinders it is more reliable in nature, certainly more robust and able to withstand sudden changes in the weather. It has consistency, if you will. And so this week sees hype of the more slow-burning kind produced by its engine – The National’s new album “Trouble Will Find Me”. Regular listeners of the show (and indeed readers of this blog) will be well aware of my love for The National, a group of four brothers and one friend based in Brooklyn, New York, that quietly and with little fanfare has presented itself as one of the best bands in recent times.
I first became aware of them about 6 years ago when they played Glasgow’s Nice and Sleazys to approximately 15 people. In the interests of full disclosure I admit that they had little effect on me, mainly because I was there to see a friend’s band who were opening the show, but I was reminded of them a few years later by my guitarist John (always one step ahead of the curve in these matters) who demanded I listen to their album “Boxer”. It didn’t take long for their hook to sink into my skin, and in their music I felt something I hadn’t for quite some time: a connection. The often profoundly moving everyman poetry of Matt Berningers words, not to mention his lugubriously arresting baritone vocals; the lo-fi meets hi-fi orchestration, layered and dense and infinitely investigable; and the drumming – don’t even get me started on the drumming. Just some of the many things I greatly admire about what the chaps from The National do.
Since forming in 1999, the band has had to endure the long road to recognition. It hasn’t been easy, but there is no doubt that what has propelled them forward at such a steady pace is good old fashioned word of mouth and a kind of steely eyed devotion from their fans. That began to turn in to hype with the release of 2010’s “High Violet” – most likely the band’s masterpiece, and a good place to start for the uninitiated – and has built to a quiet fever with their 6th album “Trouble Will Find Me”, released this coming Monday. What’s pleasing is that they haven’t pandered to the masses – this is The National resolutely refusing to be drawn into our world, instead insisting that we come and spend some more time in theirs. Only time will allow us to judge where it sits in what is already an impressive body of work, but it’s typically weird and pretty wonderful. As our Record of Note – alongside some fantastic music from the likes of Camera Obscura, The Strokes, Stornoway, Kurt Vile and more – you can find out what all the hype is about this Thursday at 10.05pm on BBC Radio Scotland.