The National's Agenda: With Yo La Tengo and Wye Oak at Merriweather Post Pavilion

September 6, 2011

The National, from left: Bryce Dessner, Bryan Devendorf, Matt Berninger, Aaron Dessner and Scott Devendorf.

When the members of the National head to the studio to record their sixth album together, the goal will be to work faster than ever before.

“We sort of know that worst-case, it’s going to take us a long time, every time,” bassist Scott Devendorf says. Writing and recording for 2010′s “High Violet” stretched on for nearly two years before it was complete. But “we’re tired of it taking forever.”

So, when director Tom McCarthy asked the National to write a song for his 2011 film, “Win Win,” the band saw it as a chance to work on speeding up the process. “We were under deadline, so that helped, and it was someone else’s deadline, not our own,” he says. “It was refreshing to do something quick”

The somber “Think You Can Wait,” which plays at the film’s end, comes off more straightforward than the songs on “High Violet,” most of which were heavily layered in overdubbed textures. Singer Matt Berninger’s baritone vocal is at the forefront as the rest of the band — made up of two sets of brothers: multi-instrumentalist twins Aaron and Bryce Dessner, and the rhythm section, Scott and Bryan Devendorf — hang in the background.

The song is a mere taste of what the band’s released since “High Violet.” An expanded edition of the album, with four B-sides and three live tracks, came out last fall, and the group also wrote a track specifically for the puzzle-based video game “Portal 2.”

Before the National can even consider a new album, there are still a few shows left to be played. First, a brief tour of amphitheaters with openers Yo La Tengo and Baltimore’s Wye Oak. “I get to watch two bands I love every night, for a week,” Devendorf says of the jaunt, which kicks off tonight at Merriweather Post Pavilion. A few international dates are scheduled for November. After that, “we’ll disappear for a bit,” and look ahead. “We have some sketches of ideas, and that’s probably all that will happen until we go home and regroup.”

For now, Devendorf can only guess as to what the next album will sound like. “We want to make something a little more direct sonically and a little less gauzy,” he says. “We’ll see — it could all change.”

Dedicated Fan
Scott Devendorf and the Dessner brothers have a pet project in the works: a tribute album to the Grateful Dead. While nothing is finalized, bands such as Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes have expressed interest in contributing. Devendorf is a huge Dead fan, though you won’t hear it in the National’s music. “It’s more an admiration; we’ve never tried playing like them,” he says.

Merriweather Post Pavilion, 10475 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia, Md.; Tue., 5 p.m., $30-$40; 800-551-7328, Merriweathermusic.com.

Photo by Gyrithe Lemche

Rudi Greenberg is Express' Weekend Pass editor and comedy columnist.
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