They met at school in Colorado in the LATE NINETIES where they basically learned to play music with and from one another. Many recordings were made — hiss-soaked, hobbling mood-bursts that provided the framework for what they would eventually do when National Eye began nebulously taking shape several years later. After college, they packed up for Philadelphia to continue to make music together. It took a few years, but eventually they began to unwittingly forge a method and a style that would take full advantage of the members’ disparate tastes and abilities. Five guys met at the center of the Eye — and recorded a bunch of great songs.
The result of these endeavors, The Meter Glows appeared in 2003 — which is essentially the birth of the band caught on tape, in the sense that before these songs started to coalesce in their headphone universe, there was no “National Eye” (strictly speaking). The album contained 13 tracks of a startling variety, but all with a pathological devotion to sonic texture and emotional impact. New York label Feel Records recognized its power (or its weirdness) (or its vast commercial potential) and released the album, despite the band’s utter lack of live experience or reputation. Good move.
Now that there was this document (The Meter Glows), the band set out into the world and began attempting to present the album’s loping aural alleys on the stages of Philadelphia’s lovely rock venues. As they were figuring this out, they met some truly momentous musicians who had very much in common with our National Eye — despite the fact that none of them sounded anything like National Eye (or each other). But what the band found in those early, heady days was something they’d never really felt before — a calibrated explosion of bands and artists who saw what the Eye was doing, supported it, and were trying to do something just as great. This is an important part of the National Eye story if only because of the band’s spirit of ego-less collaboration (who’s the FRONT MAN? they’re routinely asked) and they thrive on a sense of constant creative activity among diverse weirdos.
The band played and toured and strove and struggled and meanwhile started recording another album, again at home (though mostly in a different home). When they finished tracking, they once again took the album to genius Thom Monahan (Pernice Brothers, Silver Jews, Devendra Barnhart) for mixing. Just as he had done on The Meter Glows, he took the beautiful mess of the raw Eye, broke it down and built it up again to make it a beautiful non-mess. Or a less messy mess. The point is, the guy’s contribution is hugely significant.
This brings us to National Eye’s ambitious second album, Roomful of Lions: a cathedral of color noise & conversation — fractured human history mixed with fractured human relations. Where Meter was dense, Lions is expansive, providing a grander sonic architecture for the band’s songs — themselves offering a more nuanced and ambiguous moral universe. Subjects range from a mutinous Nazi plot to assassinate Hitler (“Abwehr”), a 15th Century saint (“Casimir”), Marvel comics (“Silver Agers”), and a childhood bully (“Lights”). No matter how far out they go, the songs are of a piece and describe a world not too dissimilar to our own, full of passion and death and birds and thieves and love and “men who casino.”
Some of Philadelphia’s greatest musical persons appear on Roomful of Lions — Dr. Dog’s Scott McMicken plays a fevered guitar solo on “Juno 3”; Eliza Hardy of the gorgeous Buried Beds provides vocals on “Drowned in Bed”; Chicago transplant Janet “Evil Janet” Kim brings oboe to “Juno 3;” and two of the geniuses behind Like Moving Insects, Todd Starlin and Joshua Marcus bring trumpet and vocals respectively to songs like “Lights” and “Silver Agers.”
Roomful of Lions is being brought to the whole wide world by indie record label Park the Van Records, who have been raiding Philadelphia’s rockroll fridge of late, also putting out music by National Eye’s friends Dr. Dog and The Teeth.
Some of the early works from National Eye were specially adapted for use in the score to the critically acclaimed independent film, “Four Eyed Monsters.”
Edited by matteyles on 10 Sep 2012, 09:52
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