Moroccan Role: The National - "Blank Slate" vs. "Keep it Upstairs"

Moroccan Role

A Totally Kiler Music/MP3 Blog.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The National - "Blank Slate" vs. "Keep it Upstairs"

As anyone who reads this blog with any regularity knows, I am a huge fan of almost all things The National. On April 30th (nearly a month prior to the street date of the new album), the band released a limited edition single for Boxer standout, "Mistaken for Strangers". The UK CD single featured two B-sides: "Blank Slate" and "Santa Clara". Since the new full-length was already widely available prior to the release of the single, I just recently got around to listening to these B-sides. Featuring the more traditional National sound, "Santa Clara" is stylistically closer to Boxer and would be a better fit on either of the band's last two albums than would be "Blank Slate". However, "Blank Slate" is the more interesting of the two and, in terms of quality, rivals nearly anything appearing on the new album. The song features a straightforward, driving backing beat and some of the most playful/whimsical lyrics I've heard from singer Matt Berninger. He speaks of finding love by kidnapping someone famous, fending off armies with tennis rackets, and tackling young girls off bicycles. More typical of Berninger, he also states his head is like a "buzzing three star hotel" and that he keeps all his puzzling urges at bay, i.e., "upstairs for the grand finale".

After hearing this tune a couple of times, I felt it was somehow strangely familiar. I realized soon after that "Blank Slate" is a reworking of an earlier National tune, "Keep it Upstairs"-- a B-side from the 2005 "Abel" single. While they share most of the same lyrics, the songs could not be more different. On the most basic level, it appears that someone other than Berninger is singing on "Keep it Upstairs". At the very least, he is employing a falsetto that renders him virtually unrecognizable. His distinctive baritone is unmistakable after all. "Blank Slate" is also much more upbeat than the deliberate, slow churning pop stylings of "Keep it Upstairs". While "Keep it Upstairs" is intriguing because-- for someone unfamiliar with the tune-- it is difficult to detect that is even The National, I nevertheless prefer the re-working. It would have never quite worked on Boxer, but this is one of my favorite tunes from these dudes this year.

Stream the tunes:


Recent highlights from around the blogs:

This week, nearly every music blog in existence posted this first MP3 from The New Pornographers upcoming full length, Challengers, due 8/12-->
MP3: The New Pornographers - "My Rights Versus Yours"

While their 2005 album, Black Sheep Boy, was among the top tier albums released that year, I nearly forgot about this cool tune from Okkervil River's forthcoming LP, Stage Names, due 8/07-->
MP3: Okkervil River - "Our Life is Not a Movie or Maybe"

Here's a video of Sufjan Stevens performing "The Lakes of Canada" (the Innocence Mission cover) on the roof of Cincinnati's Memorial Hall, the day of the MusicNOW Festival:

Finally, Mental Floss posted this neat little album cover art quiz. The quiz features the 15 biggest-selling albums in music history and asks if the album covers have been altered in any way. I got 12/15...

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Anonymous Joe said...

Great post man, I just purchased this 7" vinyl on ebay actually. Not to get nit picky, but isn't it "Blank"Slate, rather than black? I grabbed it and Santa Clara from ITunes....

7:43 AM  
Blogger Matt said...

yeah, it actually is "Blank"-- which makes a whole lot more sense. The version of the tune I have was mislabeled and I've seen it mislabeled elsewhere...but according to the beggars website it is "Blank". Thanks for the heads-up!

9:30 AM  
Blogger Tim Looney said...

i know this is way old news but i was just listening to keep it upstairs with headphones on last night and realized that it is not matt singing in the falsetto - near the end you can hear matt singing in the background in his normal baritone - who is singing?

7:34 AM  
Blogger Xanthe said...

And the demo of Slow Show on the Virginia EP includes the chorus from Blank Slate. So they're all kind of the same song, or at least grew out of each other. It's pretty cool, really.

4:46 PM  

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