Release Date: Feb 26, 2016
Record label: 4AD
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, New Wave/Post-Punk Revival, Experimental Rock
Last year we had singer Matt Berninger’s EL VY and now there’s another The National side-project seemingly christened after a drunken accident with a scrabble set. The drum and bass faction, brothers Bryan and Scott Devendorf, haven’t entirely left their day job behind in their collaboration with Beirut trombonist Ben Lanz. There’s a shared penchant for shimmering riffs, gold-washed melodies and expansive backdrops.
The National are one of those top-tier indie bands who have reached the kind of sweet spot that most groups aspire to; practically unanimous critical acclaim, enough commercial viability to secure top five positions for their last two records on the Billboard chart and a global fanbase with suitable breadth to ensure they play huge venues around the world, from London's O2 Arena to the outdoor forecourt at Sydney Opera House. They've achieved all of this, though, whilst still largely being able to walk down the street without being recognised or pestered (even if the increasingly shaggy Matt Berninger looks as if he wants to stand out from the crowd) and whilst both their frontman and twin guitarists Bryce and Aaron Dessner have a certain degree of status within the alternative world, with the latter pair increasingly established as producers and composers in their own right, The National's other band of brothers have retained a degree of enigma and anonymity even within the goldfish bowl of indie rock. Bryan Devendorf's intricate, mercurial approach to the drums, which so often has him segueing between time signatures, has long been the group's secret weapon, with Scott, his considerably less hirsute sibling, quietly crucial on bass.
The debut album of a collaboration between trombonist Ben Lanz of Beirut and the National's Scott and Bryan Devendorf, LNZNDRF is improvisational in nature and not necessarily what may be imagined for the combination of names involved. The project does share some of the experimental nature (and drum tones) of another of drummer Bryan Devendorf's side projects, Pfarmers (that one with Menomena's David Seim and trombonist Dave Nelson), but inhabits a darker, post-punk sound that recalls bands like the Cure and New Order more than its members' other incarnations. The album's eight tracks -- half of them instrumentals -- were pulled from longer improvisations recorded in a church studio in Cincinnati, Ohio over a span of less than three days.
Whether you are a hardcore fan of the National or think the Brooklyn-based band is everything wrong and annoying about indie rock (and to judge from their YouTube comments, there are a fair number of you in both camps), it's hard to argue against the prowess of the Dessner twins, Bryce and Aaron, who help power the band's sound. They are frequently namechecked as the engine behind the band: Both help run the venerable artpop boutique label Brassland Records, whose flagship act Clogs is one of the foremost names in indie classical. Bryce, meanwhile, collaborated with Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto on the Golden Globe-nominated score to The Revenant and recently saw his compositions interpreted by the Kronos Quartet.
There’s a great deal of moonlighting going on these days - especially if you’re a member of The National. The Dessner twins have long dipped their toes in foreign waters; making forays into contemporary classical with the likes of the Kronos Quartet and taking on various production duties: Matt Berninger embraced his inner ‘fun guy’ on El Vy’s funky debut and its playful videos. But the Devendorf brothers – Scott and Bryan –have kept a lower profile - quietly plying their trade as the rhythmic engine room of The National.
Side projects rarely, if ever, reach the standards the parent bands achieve, right? It’s a common occurrence. Take a couple of such efforts from last year for instance: The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach’s secondary band The Arcs produced a decent, if comparatively average, long player in Yours, Dreamily. The National’s frontman Matt Berninger also took the plunge outside of his main band when teaming up with Brent Knopf for EL VY’s début collection Return To The Moon; again occasionally great but largely indifferent.
Bryan Devendorf possesses a rare, valuable quality, one that is sorely lacking in many of the lesser contemporaries with whom his main band, The National, are lumped in – he is utterly distinctive. He is a drummer who needs only to play a straight, 4/4 beat to be immediately recognised, even by those who are relatively unfamiliar with his work. On LNZNDRF, he, his brother Scott (also of The National), and Beirut’s Ben Lanz construct eight tracks around his insistent grooves.