I know what you’re thinking – ‘Expanded Edition’? Isn’t this some kind of crass marketing ploy? Alas – no! Straight from the horse’s mouth, Aaron Dessner, The National’s guitarist proclaims differently – “The way that we work, we make so many songs, we try so many different things, and we edit ourselves so heavily – and sometimes I think too much – that a lot of things get thrown away,” and so evolves a product such as The National’s Expanded Edition of High Violet. Is it a throw away record, or a way for the record label to get a little extra rack space? Despite the obvious thought, this record fares somewhat differently.
A massive eight extra tracks – which were all available for individual download on a little thing called iTunes if you shelled out for the record in back in May – feature on the extended LP. The National are notorious for getting things spot on (they’re perfectionists about being perfectionist – one example with the band admitting they’d recorded 80 takes of the track “Lemonworld” just to get it right – then used an earlier version); this EP of ‘off-cuts’ is just a prime demonstration of the distinct demeanour and abject quality for a band of their standard.
The EP opens with an alternate version of “Terrible Love”, originating as a demo of one of the more popular The National tracks off High Violet (QRO review); the EP also features tracks “Bloodbuzz Ohio” from ‘The Current’, a radio station in Minneapolis, “Anyone’s Ghost” and “England” performed at a special one-off show during the release of High Violet at The Brooklyn Academy of Music (QRO venue review). Much of this footage has been broadcast (check the bands Vevo channel for truly side-splitting clips of the band doing strange things with umbrellas and apples), but these live snippets capture the raw energy and passion The National give off during their live performances – and with no real live releases from the band, has left fans gagging for more. Even so, this earlier version of “Terrible Love” carries some of the real, true intensity that The National have been purveying so incredibly well since the start of their ten-year career.
However, perhaps the true gems of the expanded edition lie in the b-sides which have been stuck on the EP – “Sin Eaters” was available on the 7″ edition of the “Bloodbuzz Ohio” release and “You Were a Kindness” on the 7″ edition of “Terrible Love”, both which were limited releases. “Sin Eaters” provides a bitter, recollection reminiscent of the state of the financial times, opening with the lyric, “Wall Street jumps in the Hudson river” – a song echoing with a void of hope yet effortless emotion. However, the absolute gem of the expanded edition is undoubtedly “You Were a Kindness” – a track debuted back in July this year in the Netherlands, big fans of the band have been eager to see a studio recording of this track; behold, Christmas has come early. This track tells a gut wrenching, raw, emotional tale with a real sense of fragility – perhaps something the rest of High Violet is lacking. But for what fragility and gentle emotion High Violet as a whole may arguably lack, “You Were a Kindness” makes up for in shedloads.
It’s not all tears and gut wrenching though, and perhaps the extended edition is merely an indicator of what multi faceted young men The National are made up of. If you want something to tap your foot to, you won’t be at a loss either – with “Wake Up Your Saints” providing an upbeat number to the EP. With bold brass accompaniment and a jazzy beat and even hand-clicks (that’s right, hand-clicks from The National!), if there’s a tune to get you going, this is it. With a few cheeky lyrics pinched from elsewhere (Hi “Lemonworld”, Hello “Anyone’s Ghost”!), this track provides a fresh and welcome departure from The Nationals so-called typical depressing demeanour, and strangely enough, this is probably the furthest away you could get. However, typically of the National – this track hasn’t sold them short at all-, which is all that can be said for the entirety of the expanded edition.
If you thought High Violet was one of the best of 2010, buy, listen, cherish, love the expanded edition. You won’t have to think – you’ll just know.
MP3 Stream: “You Were a Kindness”