I shook the 8-ball and out of the mysterious liquid realm came a suggestion to pick “Bloodbuzz Ohio” by The National as the eighth song on our Top 11 list. All hail the mighty 8-ball. Putting aside my idolatry for the black circle of broad responses, I believe the 8-ball made the correct choice. Is it odd that I had previously written “Bloodbuzz Ohio” in as the number eight song of the year?
Song: “Bloodbuzz Ohio”
Band: The National
When The National released High Violet in May of 2010 something clicked with the national public. Prior to its release, this 11-year-old Indie rock band, led by baritone Matt Berninger, had released four previous albums. Boxer, released in 2007, charted highest in Finland, reaching the 23rd spot. The National swam in the sea of under appreciation for talented bands releasing good material. But, after High Violet hit, led by an excellent full-album performance highlighted by the song we are featuring today, people started taking notice. The song charted practically everywhere, reaching the #3 spot in the United States (where The National only hit #68 with Boxer). To this date, High Violet has sold 400,000 copies worldwide and has gone silver in the UK and gold in Ireland. 11 tracks for an 11 year history. The band finally now gets to experience some deserved recognition.
The National formed in Cincinnati. Berninger’s croon and lyric are the staples that hold the band together. But, the band also consists of two sets of brothers, the Dessners and Devendorfs, who create the band’s wonderful instrumentation. Padma Newsome, from The Clogs, often contributes keyboards and strings (which she does for “Bloodbuzz Ohio” which we will begin to discuss…right now!)
Let me share a brief preface before you settle into the piece. The song is a tenebrous masterpiece, melancholic in voice, video and music. The lyric delves into the topic of traveling back home and it certainly opens a fresh wound that bleeds out slowly onto the listener.
The song is immediately depressing. The charcoal video is paired with Berninger’s gloomy voice, dark but level, and a solemn loneliness that immediately presents itself after the drummed opening. The squirming repetition is almost as uncomfortable as Berninger’s drunkenness throughout the video. But, please don’t take that the wrong way. Songs are occasionally supposed to move you out of your comfort song. If you listen to pure mainstream you never get the opportunity to experience different music. And this is exactly what “Bloodbuzz Ohio” is. It is representative of a band that may be slightly out of your normal listening zone. So expand it and taste something that nears on acerbic and austere, but still maintains a hook and melodic quality that draws you in.
The chorus is exceptional. It is capable of drawing incredible emotion out of you. I go back to repetition but I think this is where the true strength of the song lies. The lyrics are also repetitive. He repeats almost every line twice and maintains a few lyric openings like “I still owe money” and “I rest my eyes.” Perhaps the best moment comes when the song lifts into harmony and Berninger sings that he is on a “blood buzz.” So, what is a blood buzz?
Like I said above, the song exposes traveling back to Ohio (where he grew up). The “blood” refers to his family, his literal blood. The buzz is that feeling you get when you go home. Notice how after he sings that he is on a “blood buzz” the instrumentation fights with two conflicting musical parts. In the background is a keyboard striking 4-5 high notes, tinged with optimism. But a repetitive brash and scratchy chord attempts to cover up the sweetness. This fight represents Berninger’s lyric and character in the video. When the lyric, video, voice and instrumentation all join together to struggle with the same concept that the song represents, well, that demonstrates musical experience and intelligence, two things that The National has a lot of.