“New Order T-Shirt” by The National

The National’s ninth studio album is titled “The First Two Pages of Frankenstein”. Earlier in 2023, they issued its lead single, a track called “Tropic Morning News“. Then on 23 February a second song was officially released in advance of the album, “New Order T-Shirt”, which was produced by the entire band though written by its two key members, vocalist Matt Berninger and guitarist Aaron Dessner. The rest of the crew, to note, consists of guitarists Bryce Dessner and Scott Devendorf alongside drummer Bryan Devendorf.

You can view the lyrics, alternate interprations and sheet music for The National's New Order T-Shirt at Lyrics.org.

Dessner is a name that has become increasingly hot in industry circles due him having developed into a steadfast workmate of the unfailing Taylor Swift. 

Accordingly, Swift is featured on the aforementioned LP, on a song dubbed “The Alcott”. To note, said project is being put out through 4AD, the British label which The National (who hail from Cincinnati) have been running with since the late aughts, due to it merging with Beggars Banquet Records, whom they signed with in 2003.


Concurrent with the release of this song, The National actually put T-shirts up for sale which are highlighted by the phrase “New Order” emboldened on front. In context, said phrase is actually a shoutout to New Order, the long-standing rock band from England whom, considering the lyrics of the track, The National are obviously fans of.


That is to say that Matt’s “New Order T-shirt” serves as a plot device in the song. As implied, back in the day he owned such a piece of clothing, a T-shirt branded by New Order. And more specifically, in the chorus we find him reminiscing on the fact that the addressee, who was/is apparently a loved one, used to wear said item of his.

“I keep what I can of you
Split-second glimpses and snapshots and sounds
You in my New Order t-shirt
Holding a cat and a glass of beer”

That said, this is a National song, so all of the lyrics are not as easily interpretable. What appears to be going down here is Berninger indeed recalling certain profound incidents in which a close associate also played a memorable role, even if only being by his side at the time. 

Whether or not said associate, i.e. the addressee, is the same throughout is not clear. But what it does read like is that instead of relaying what happened directly, the vocalist rather utilizes lingo to recall the mentioned events as colorfully as possible.

As the song progresses, it is increasingly inferred that the addressee was a romantic interest. Based on certain lyrical clues, we can presume that since these events transpired they have broken up. For instance, the third verse reveals that their relationship did eventually develop into a troubled one. And in the chorus the vocalist states that he ‘keeps what he can of’ the addressee, thus firmly implying that this person is no longer in his life.

Aaron Dessner pointed out that this particular line, under his personal interpretation, is a reference to “everyone (he’s) ever known or loved”. So perhaps from his viewpoint, this song does have a general applicability, thus adding credence to the possibility that the addressee of the first verse for instance may not be vocalist’s ex. 

But by the time all is said and done, this track does wax romantic. Indeed as a guy, you’re more likely to remember a girlfriend wearing one of your old T-shirts as opposed to a fellow homey doing so, since the latter tends to be a lot more common.

3 Responses

  1. RaveDave60 says:

    Does anyone else feel that this song is imbued with post-9/11 melancholy (or survivor’s guilt)?

  2. Anonymous says:

    I think it is about his failed relationship but failed mainly because his alcoholism. And she couldn’t take the craziness anymore.

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