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The Album Study: Another St Andrews Solo Walk

The National’s 2007 Boxer as Accompaniment

This time last year, The Saint highlighted the necessity of the soundtrack to your St Andrews Solo Walk. The West-East-Castle Sands trifecta, and the tree-lined path of Lade Braes, inspire a reflective solitude the St Andrews student body requires during a stressful university season. These strolls, as written before, demand an album soundtrack, one musical artist’s intentional story. The first recommendation The Saint made: Jason Isbell’s Southeastern, a 2013 Americana album with Bob Dylan-esque lyricism. Isbell’s ‘Relatively Easy’ reminds students to practise gratitude and ‘Different Days’ tasks listeners with acknowledging personal change. But that’s just one album and one walk. Another year, more walks, another album recommendation.

Formed in 1999, The National is an alternative rock band based and developed in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Brooklyn, New York. The group consists of lead vocalist Matt Berninger, Bryan and Scott Devendorf, and Bryce and Aaron Dessner, and has released seven studio albums since its 2001 album The National. The National’s sound is easily identifiable, as Berninger’s deep and sombre voice leaves a memorable echo in listeners’ ears. The lyrics can be harder to decipher with themes of relationship despair, make-believe visuals, and social anxieties. I’ll admit my interest in the band grew even more when it was featured on Taylor Swift’s 2020 evermore album and when I learned of Aaron Dessner’s songwriting and production work with Swift. To me, there’s something particularly captivating about The National’s sound and suitable for a stroll around town.

The band’s 2007 work Boxer, a twelve-track indie-folk-rock album, has been my recent choice as I return to my St Andrews walking routine this autumn. With features from Sufjan Stevens, the ultimate nostalgia-inducing creative, more than a few memorable tracks are worth digging into as The Saint approaches album soundtracking options.

‘Mistaken For Strangers’ carries the St Andrews solo walker into a darker headspace, as it speaks of the changes people go through as they grow older. The narrative follows a young person who changed enough as they grew older that their friends no longer recognise them. The song reminds listeners of the constant state-of-change university evokes in all of us.

Partially describing the types of events we all go to during the first week back to university, ‘Slow Show’ proves particularly relatable to the social anxieties of meeting new students at large-scale social events. The band writes of an introvert standing alone at a party as they grow ‘a little more stupid, a little more scared. Every minute, more unprepared’. To ease this anxiety, the character just hopes to leave the tense social scene and return home to someone they love, with whom they feel most comfortable, and dance. Listeners feel the warmth of this ‘slow show’ as the chorus reigns in the narrator’s calm. When walking alone on West Sands or around town, ‘Slow Show’ encapsulates the widespread dread of the packed social calendar that accompanies a return to university.

The seventh track on the record, ‘Apartment Story’ paints a picture of a couple leaving for a party, now living together, and speaks of the more mundane phases of growing up. These two people stepped into adulthood and with it came complacency: ‘We’ll stay inside ‘til somebody finds us, do whatever the TV tells us, stay inside our rosy-minded fuzz for days’. We’re reminded, as students, of this complacency’s onset and therefore our walking agenda forces us to consider the extent we appreciate the liveliness of our current lifestyles.

There are more tracks to write of and more to say on The National’s influence on my walking routine, but, as always, it just takes a listen to understand fully. Boxer, Southeastern, or wherever your musical journey takes you, these albums help us adjust to the opportunities of the town, and they make our walking routines even more worthwhile.

Illustration: Lauren McAndrew

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