What is it about a song that demands the kind of devotion that makes you unable to listen to another note or sound until you're exhausted, having completely surrendered to it? I know not everyone listens that way and it's not my usual habit but it's not uncommon for something in a song to form a Star Wars-like tractor beam, holding me captive until I'm completely immobilized. I love it when I can identify that quality, but sometimes I think it's the point of the thing not to know.
The National isn't my favorite band but they've got as many obsession-worthy songs as anyone I can think of at the moment. I don't often listen to their albums from beginning to end. Sometimes it's because they're albums feel uneven to me. More often it's because one songs gets under my skin and pulls me to it and won't let go. Some songs from Boxer and Alligator have only been listened to four or five times, and then you have "City Middle" which has been listened to 31 times (and counting).
I don't know what it was that drew me in, so for awhile I kept listening trying to figure it out. At some point, I abandoned my investigation and admitted I was powerless to resist whatever chemical reaction imprisons me. I still can't identify it but I can describe it.
"City Middle" sketches a series of scenes; I don't know if all these scenes are part of the same "movie" or if they're connected at all, but there are series of images and moods evoked. These scenes are immersed in a narcotic sonic backdrop that sounds so simple yet is perfectly mixed and arranged. There is light orchestration that rises and falls like the tide at night. The opaque lyrics and the understated music make "City Middle" feel welcoming and enveloping while maintaining an air of mystery and distance. Maybe that contradiction is what I love so much, or maybe it's something else entirely. I'm now up to 36 spins and I still don't know.