For a certain kind of person, there's nothing happier than really sad music. That's where the National comes in. On the quintet's latest critically lauded album, Alligator, Matt Berninger comes on like Bill Callahan fronting American Music Club, while brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner and Scott and Bryan Devendorf provide a cinematic and anthemic backdrop that's simultaneously grandiose and vulnerable. Even as Berninger fixates on self-loathing mantras like "I'm so sorry for everything" and "I used to be carried in the arms of cheerleaders," his bandmates swirl around him like the guys who probably beat him up in the locker room. In the end, Alligator's tension-filled juju of arrogance and desperation is the spiritual cousin of the Afghan Whigs' Gentlemen, with an extra dose of misanthropy thrown in for good measure.
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