The National are one of the finest bands around in music today, with four albums under their belts that are hard to fault. The new odds-and-ends compilation The Virginia EP and companion film A Skin, A Night probably won’t win over any new fans alone, but are decent addition to their oeuvre.
The Virginia EPs dozen live tracks, demos and bsides make for a slightly disjointed listen, but there are some real standouts here. Opener ‘You’ve Done it Again Virginia’ and Mistaken for Strangers b-side ‘Santa Clara’ show The National at their stately, sombre best, while a live version of Boxer’s ‘Fake Empire’ is a great example of how they’ve mastered the slow-building, rousing anthem. I’d still take the studio version over this though. The lyrics of Springsteen’s ‘Mansion on the Hill’, about being a working class kid staring up at a house seemingly filled with a better life, perfectly compliment Matt Berninger’s rich, weary vocals.
‘Lucky You’, a highlight of their second album Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers, is included as a pared-down Daytrotter Session track and there’s also a live take of ‘About Today’ from the Cherry Tree EP, one of my favourite tracks by the band. Neither really improve on the originals, but they will hopefully encourage newer listeners to dig deeper.
I didn’t really find Vincent Moon’s A Skin, A Night particularly engaging. The visuals are often beautifully shot but it’s filled with long sections of nothing much except clichéd rock-doc footage of trains, cars, kids playing etc. The footage of the band recording Boxer does give some insight into the dynamics of the band but as is often the case with musicians, The National are much better at showing than telling, as Berninger admits in the opening minutes. Overall, A Skin, A Night has the feel of a bonus feature on a concert DVD rather than a centrepiece.
For better examples of Moon’s work with the band, check out his videos for Alligator’s ‘Lit Up’ and ‘Daughter’s of the Soho Riots’:
You can download the full National Daytrotter session here – their cover of The Psychedelic Furs’ ‘Pretty in Pink’ is definitely the highlight.
The National embark on a European tour this month, with the following UK dates:
29th June – Glastonbury Festival
30th June – Birmingham – Academy
1st July – Leeds – Leeds Metropolitan University
4th July – London – O2 Wireless Festival
8th July – Belfast – Mandela Hall