On my first listen through the National’s new album First Two Pages Of Frankenstein, “Eucalyptus” jumped out. The track has continued to be a favorite on subsequent spins, ingratiating itself as one of the highlights of the band’s recent catalog. So I’m glad it’s out today as the project’s latest single following “Tropic Morning News” and “New Order T-Shirt.”
“What about the Cowboy Junkies/ What about the Afghan Whigs?” is the kind of late-Berninger lyric that sometimes incites facepalms from me, but this particular instance of name-checking pop-cultural chestnuts works wonders for me. So does the noisy, “Terrible Love”-esque production, the way the distortion spills into the song and gradually takes it over. The emergence of a classic Dessner brass-section melody at the end is a nice touch. And anyone who’s been missing Bryan Devendorf’s drums as the band errs on the side of muted electronic pulsing should find a lot to like here. I look forward to submerging myself in this one at future gigs.
Part of the reason the song has that visceral live feel is because it was partially recorded during a live performance last fall at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, New York. According to a press release, Bryce Dessner had sent the song to Berninger so long ago that he’d forgotten about it, but Berninger wrote lyrics a few hours before the show and asked to perform it that night. “We rehearsed it twice without ever having had a demo and played it to the audience that night, and what you hear on the album was partially recorded during that performance,” Dessner says. “It’s got this raw, immediate feeling, and it made sense to leave the rough edges instead of trying to perfect them.”
As for the lyrics, here’s Berninger:
Throughout the record there’s a lot of looking into the abyss and wondering if a relationship has run its course. “Eucalyptus” is about a couple splitting up their possessions after a breakup — like, “What are we going to do with the spring water we get delivered, what’s going to happen to all these plants?” It’s about all those little things you end up having to think about when you’ve become so connected to someone.
Set at the National’s Long Pond Studio in upstate New York, the “Eucalyptus” video is directed by Chris Sgroi. Watch below.
First Two Pages Of Frankenstein is out 4/28 on 4AD.