The National - "The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness" (Singles Going Steady)

by PopMatters Staff

1 June 2017

The National 2.0 have been given a slightly modern makeover but have managed to make it sound like a natural progression

Mike Schiller: There’s a title that looks like a total laugher (or, maybe, the title of a Philip K. Dick short story), but makes perfect sense when Matt Berninger sings it. Really, it’s a meditation on a relationship in transition, though exactly from what and to what isn’t clear; the only real clarity is in the difficulty of the situation. It’s one of those songs probably borne of a very specific situation or time in Berninger’s life, turned into the sort of sentiment that anyone who’s been in a relationship for longer than a month can identify with. The chaos going on around Berninger is appropriate for the subject matter, its looped and layered nature owing a debt to IDM while still grounding itself in the instruments of the rest of the band. It’s an interesting direction for the National, less mopey and more textured than much of their recent output while retaining the core elements that make them immediately identifiable. It’s a song that bodes well for the new album. [8/10]

Steve Horowitz: “Why are you hiding from me?”—the existential question we ask of everyone but ourselves. The National speak in riddles. There are no answers, only questions. And we can share them! This song works as a meditative mantra. It reflects back at itself by looking outwards for confirmation that we exist we exist we exist. Hallelujah! [9/10]

Adriane Pontecorvo: Urgent drum beats and gripping guitar build up to one hell of a piano tune. The National rips through the titular total darkness with a howling melancholy, full musical force unleashed. Poignant keys keep the track from veering too far into party anthem territory; instead, the high energy is a catharsis. Frustration, sorrow, desperation—all find a release in increasingly amped up iterations of a simple and all-encompassing chorus: “I cannot explain it / Any other / Any other way.” [8/10]

Paul Carr: The band have promised that their new album would mark something of a new direction for the band. A sentiment that can strike fear into the heart of any fan but if any band can pull it off, it’s the National and boy, have they. Unsurprisingly, the backing has a more electronic feel with moody, soft beats and a drum machine but the most striking thing is the catchy guitar riff that sits front and center. All the elements that mark the band out as so unique are still intact; the propulsive drums, the ringing guitar and, of course, Matt Berninger’s unmistakable voice that digs deep into your soul. The National 2.0 have been given a slightly modern makeover but have managed to make it sound like a natural progression that at first steals your mind then steals your soul. [8/10]

SCORE: 8.25

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