The Neon Skyline takes place over the span of one night. The story goes like this: Our narrator heads to a bar where he hears that his ex is back in town. From there, he spirals through the course of their relationship from young love to jealous arguments to dreams of starting over. He eventually runs into her and they go their separate ways. But by this point, late in the album, you’ve learned that reconciliation was never the point. In the climactic “Thirteen Hours,” Shauf drifts through a flashback that doesn’t focus on the fight that brought out their true nature, or the injury that landed one of them in the hospital. Instead, the key lyric is about a simple facial expression that suggested how things could never be the same again.
The mood—wistfulness giving way to self-deprecation, deep insight cut with awful puns—is both familiar and endearing. -Pitchfork
With a cast of female vocalists guiding and redirecting the songs, the National’s eighth album is their largest, longest, and most daring.
On nearly every song Berninger is accompanied and sometimes silenced by a rotation of featured female vocalists who step in to offer perspective, commentary, and dissent. It’s perhaps yet another lesson internalized from Leonard Cohen, whose songs regularly called on a chorus of women as their voice of reason. And like Cohen, the National have recruited some of the best singers out, among them Lisa Hannigan, Mina Tindle, Kate Stables, Sharon Van Etten, and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, whose spotlight “Dust Swirls in Strange Light” benches Berninger all together. Most revelatory of all is Gail Ann Dorsey, David Bowie’s longtime bassist and backing singer, who heralds the album’s new direction midway through opener “You Had Your Soul With You.” Her extraordinary voice of saffron arrives like a divine intervention, instantly parting a track that had previously been National-by-numbers.
The ex-Brooklynites are among the smallest handful of ’00s bands to close out the ’10s with a higher stock than what they entered with; theirs is one of the richest dynamics in indie rock. But for all they’re good at, every album has been first and foremost a litmus test on singer Matt Berninger. To enjoy the National, you’ve got to enjoy him. -Pitchfork
Open Up Your Head begins with "Transplant", a song that finds lead singer-guitarist-songwriter Henry Camamile getting dumped at a noisy club and not quite being able to hear all of his girlfriend's explanation. Throughout 14 tracks, Camamile goes through denial, bargaining, muses on how excellent she was. He decides that she is the only one out there for him, and finally declares that he's ready to move on. It's easy to take these songs individually as pretty typical rock song romance tracks, but it seems fair to treat this as a concept album as well.
Open Up Your Head is a catchy record from the jump and easy to like. But the band's strong songwriting and interesting arrangements grew on me, as did Camamile's nuanced lyrics. Fans of power-pop and indie rock will find this album enormously appealing if they can get past the big, glossy production that clearly wants to push Sea Girls out to radio in their native UK and beyond. -popMATTERS
Uniquely, a third of the twelve-track disc was released as singles; “Natural Affair,” “Foghorn Town,” “Try Hard Fool,” and “Pulp of Youth” were all released over a month before the album. Natural Affair might be their most complete album to date – amazing production and depth, tracks 1 through 12 all offer an amazing listen with poetic lyrics and dynamic instrumentals.
On an album that exemplifies the Growlers' new funky sound, “Die and Live Forever” might be the funkiest, as its upbeat rhythm simply makes the song fun. This track highlights the importance of brotherhood, opening with “You might not like it man, but I’m your brother, I ain’t goin nowhere. Sorry for everything, my brother, know that I care.” With six studio albums, six EP’s, numerous singles, and fourteen years together, The Growlers know a thing or two about sticking together, as the song’s chorus reads: “Love together, suffer together, laugh and cry together, live and die remember, die and live forever.” The song is the last track of the album; an excellent message to close out their third major release in four years. -WhipRadio