Today’s Song: The National Are an Open Book in “Don’t Swallow the Cap”

Trouble Will Find Me - The National
Trouble Will Find Me - The National
The National leaned into everything that makes them the undisputed kings of despondence in 2013’s “Don’t Swallow the Cap.”
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Stream: “Don’t Swallow the Cap” – The National

Throughout their decades-long career, Brooklyn-based band, The National, have become the arbiters of introspective alternative music. Their vast catalogue is a lesson in deliciously dark melancholy. On their track, “Don’t Swallow the Cap,” off their 2013 album, Trouble Will Find Me, listeners will find that the band has leaned into everything that makes them the undisputed kings of despondence. “Don’t Swallow the Cap” is an emotional journey from start to finish, honest and brutal in the way that fans have come to expect. From lead singer Matt Berninger’s deep baritone, to the involved instrument work, the band brings their uniquely sensitive energy to this album-defining single. The result is a song that is so charged and vulnerable that it feels like reading a personal diary.

Trouble Will Find Me - The National
Trouble Will Find Me – The National
Pull out breaks behind the houses
I don’t see what’s strange about this
Tiny bubbles hang above me
It’s a sign that someone loves me
I can hardly stand upright
Hit my head up on the light
I have faith but don’t believe you
This love ain’t enough to leave you
Everything I love is on the table
Everything I love is out to sea

Don’t Swallow the Capbegins with a frenzy of drums. In the background, a violin can be heard and behind that, the sounds of a piano. But the drums take center stage, feverish, manic, unrelenting. The drums add an immediate ferocity to the song that makes the listener feel like they are sitting in the front seat of a race car. Yet, the drums never diminish or undercut the dark melody of lead singer, Berninger’s, voice. When Berninger begins to sing 0:33 seconds into the song, his voice is clear and defined. “I have only two emotions/careful fear and dead devotion,” Berninger croons in the same deadpan register.

The National make music for the contemplative.

The magic of their music is their ability to go deep and get dark, to speak into existence the unspoken. Thus, their songs often feel like intimate confessions. “Everything I love is on the table,” Berninger sings in the chorus to “Don’t Swallow the Cap.” “Everything I love is out to sea.” Then in the next verse: “I’m tired, I’m freezing, I’m dumb.” This line, delivered in a weighted and despairing voice, sounds like a whispered confession. “I need someone to stay,” he says.  And one can imagine receiving this secret as if from a close friend.

The National in 2010
The National in 2010

In their live shows, lead singer Matt Berninger usually stands still, clutching the microphone with his eyes often closed. There are few distractions on stage, no dancing stage lights, no projected imagery. There’s only the band and their instruments. The intimacy of their live shows is part of their brand and with lyrics that dig at the heart of human isolation, longing, and nostalgia, their live shows are often electrifying, charged with emotional truth.

By the time “Don’t Swallow the Cap” peaks at the chorus and then settles into the last verse, The National have taken the listener on a sonic train ride, one that starts and stops but never quite strays from its designated route. With less experienced musicians, the effect of such polish, such determined congruence, would have been a song without bite. But The National are so talented, so on-top of their game, that the song is euphoric rather than stale, a musical baptism. For fans and new listeners alike, this is The National at the very height of their craft.

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Stream: “Don’t Swallow the Cap” – The National

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Trouble Will Find Me - The National

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