Something about the National has always felt like an escape, which is at face value an odd thing to say about a band whose subject is mainly sadness and anxiety. It’s both easy to and fun to make jokes about this band being the saddest band, the saddest dads, a band full of sad dads who really love being sad. All of these jokes are accurate: The National is a band whose form and content is sadness. But the reason this band’s music seemed to act as an opening of a pressure valve on my own sadness and anxiety and that of my friend is that it’s about sadness rather than grief. Their music is the difference between the two, the luxury of sadness versus the hard edges of grief.
Sadness spreads like a stain, sadness feels bodied and over-sensitized and ringing, like the first time you got high when you were a teenager, when you lay down on the carpet and nothing had ever been better or more important than the carpet. Sadness often acts as a temporary escape from grief. There are lots and lots of things worse in human reality than a broken heart or an unfaithful lover, and all of them are absent in the National’s music. That’s so much of what’s wonderful in it. Its sadness is a reckless, obliterative escape from the larger griefs of the world, focusing in on the overwhelming, petty, selfish concerns of the privileged heart. This music is enjoyable, squishy, and opulent in all its bad-hearted moping. Nothing in this music howls; everything oozes, everything has another drink and swoons into bed, sad and horny.