(Photo credit: Owen Ela)
Following their work with Menomena as the new group Pfarmers, The National are once again making headlines for another collaboration. This week, they released “Sunshine on My Back”, a previously un-released track that features New York singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten.
This newly unearthed song featuring Van Etten comes from The National’s 2012 recording sessions for their sixth album, Trouble Will Find Me, which received a Grammy nomination. Originally, “Sunshine on My Back” was released as a bonus download for viewers who buy or rent the band’s critically acclaimed documentary film “Mistaken For Strangers” through VHX, a digital distributor. But, according to a press release, the song will be available for purchase as a single on iTunes and other streaming services.
In “Sunshine on My Back”, The National’s lead singer Matt Berninger spins the melancholy tale of a lover, who has left, but is asking that he follow her. Within the conversation that takes place, she makes him examine himself and consider the limits of their carefully crafted relationship to see if it could potentially stand the distance.
Her hesitance and distance is evident in lines of lyrics like, “You can’t try to stay” and “You either will or you won’t.” On these lines, and throughout the song, Sharon Van Etten lends her haunting ethereal harmonies to bring the voice of the distant lover to life.
The exchange between them takes place within a field that is seemingly alive and filled with sunlight; however, Berninger knows that this moment, which he will desperately try to hold onto, won’t last. In fact, the light, which one could interpret as being surrounded by happiness during a dark time in life, ends up giving him a headache. “Sunshine in my brain is the lonely kind of pain,” he sings.
Attempting to banish the dark times with too much happiness isn’t the answer for Berninger in this song; so, the real takeaway from this track by The National featuring Sharon Van Etten seems to be about striking a balance in life between the two.
Despite the melancholic and contemplative theme in the lyrics, the music of “Sunshine on My Back” is a mid-tempo number that features a strong bass line and driving drum beat that bring about a gentle-but-definitive emotional release.
Check it out, below.