The National — “Exile Vilify”

On a list of unlikely pair-ups, The National writing a song for a video-game about teleportation must rank rather highly.

Then again, Portal is one of those games that even luddites like myself think is pretty mind-bendingly cool. The idea of being trapped in some kind of training facility/laboratory by a malevolent artificial intelligence, forced into beaming yourself across and between rooms, armed only with a gun that creates rifts in the fabric of space-time. It sounds like a concept for a Yeasayer video treatment.

What Portal, and by extension Portal 2, doesn’t really sound like is five-odd minutes of suburban piano moping, of the kind for which I love The National so much. This is a really haunting, beautiful song, with the odd burst of foreboding kettle drums, and a soaring, weeping string arrangement. Near the end, there’s a twinkly upward stream of piano in a higher register, which brings the song to a surprising conclusion.

I’m assuming the song doesn’t actually play during gameplay, because that would be super-odd, and somewhat out of place alongside the procedurally-generated music that the game is known for conjuring as you pass through it.

More surprisingly, according to Wikipedia,

The National had expressed interest to Bug Music, their publishing label, in doing music for Valve, which the label forwarded on to Valve in discussing other music opportunities for the game. Valve and Bug Music identified The National would fit well into Portal 2, as their “raw and emotive music evokes the same visceral reactions from its listeners that Portal does from its players” according to Bug Music’s spokesperson Julia Betley.

How bizzarre. Well, I don’t want to invoke the ire of gamers across the planet, but I really do find this perplexing. Are the Dessners on Xbox Live too? Does Matt Berninger set high-scores while on tour? Do the Devendorfs rule at Grifball? I find these propositions unlikely.

But what do I know—I don’t play video-games, after all.

2 thoughts on “The National — “Exile Vilify”

  1. Just wanted to say as someone who has played the game this track fits in perfectly. In one of the early test chambers you find a small radio that is playing this song, only after it hearing it playing you realize every chamber before this has been dead silent. It brings about a haunting emotion to suddenly hear this small radio, you can pick it up but you can’t leave the test chamber with it. I stayed with the radio through the whole song, it made me sad to depart without it back into crushing loneliness.

  2. Taylor—I’m impressed. I can now understand why the song might fit in during gameplay. Thanks for sharing your experiences of the song in the comments!

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