Song 101: The National, “So Far Around the Bend” (2009)


The National’s Matt Berninger is one of the best lyricists working today. He perfectly captures a feeling or a mood with a phrase that’s either intimate (“I can tie my tie all by myself”) or epic (“I dreamed about you twenty-nine years before I saw you”; “So lit up I try to untie Manhattan”). The phrase seemingly comes out of nowhere but immediately fits into place, like Berninger has overheard the way you think and written a song around it.

In “So Far Around the Bend,” the phrase is “take a bath and get high through an apple.” It’s surprising because it’s such a weird combination, but it’s also something somebody might do: somebody might take a bath and then get high through an apple. They probably wouldn’t hum forever, but in this case, that’s the epic-scale line that gets paired with the small-scale one (“praying for Pavement to get back together”). The man is good at combinations.

I was putting off this post for a long time because I couldn’t pick one song by The National, but I settled on this song because I think it needs more fans. It was arranged by the composer Nico Muhly, who gave the song those glorious clarinets and strings. Because of that instrumentation, it sounds like nothing else in the National’s catalog, but it’s still definitely the National.


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