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The National – I Am Easy To Find

24 Jul

The National is the band for whom consistency is a curse as much as a blessing. There is no other band in indie rock, and possibly all music, quite as dependable as The National. They are very good at what they do and it’s always worth listening to what they put out, but their albums have a way of blending together, at least until I Am Easy To Find.

The National have clearly defined their space over their time making music. They are the feeling of looking out a grey, rainy day from inside a warm house. There’s melancholy but there’s also enough coziness to let you fully wallow in it. This album has all of the melancholy and intimacy and gentleness that The National have always evoked, but this is also their first album to feature guest vocalists to such a degree.

The guests take away the major fault of The National to date, the self-centeredness. Making it so that Berninger is no longer the only perspective is a massive, fundamental shift to the way the album feels and this jolt is exactly what The National has needed for some time.

“I Am Easy To Find”, for instance, does really well for adding a female vocalist. What would have been a rather typical song about yearning becomes something much stronger by twinning singers. There’s much more depth and subtlety than before, especially when one voice fades in or out. It’s simple and understated in the way that the best songs of The National have always been, but much more mature than their previous work.

It’s the same, but slightly more so for “The Pull of You”, which most completely delivers on the album’s premise. From the start with a few seconds free of vocals before Lisa Hannigan to Matt Berninger allowing power to come into his voice in the chorus to the tautness of “I know I can get attached and then unattached / To my own versions of others / My view of you comes back and drops away,” there’s a lot in this song that works in a way very familiar and yet new and better.

The more skewed “Oblivions” is also a stand-out. Berninger puts down the base of the song, but it is Mina Tindle who does all of the work to elevate it. Berniger’s staging of the song is hugely important, but Tindle is absolutely excellent. As is “Roman Holiday”, which conjures quick image after quick image. However, there is still a lot in the album that never quite breaches the haze that The National so expertly sets up. There’s a lot of music that just fades into the rest.

The National basically started fully formed. Their aesthetic of cinematic, but shot in a soft and quiet black and white, has been there from day one. With I Am Easy To Find though, they’ve pushed it somewhere that feels completely novel and in doing so made one of their best albums to date.

The National: Trouble Will Find Me

3 Feb

You always know what you are going to get with a National album. As ever, Trouble Will Find Me is a technically skilled yet highly accessible alternative rock album. They remain evocative and emotional. They maintain their darkness and their humor. They are still very personal. The only issue is that their sound has also stayed constant.

It often feels that every single song by The National is the same. This is blatantly untrue, even when brought down to the scale of just this album. “Don’t Swallow The Cap”, for instance, pushes you forward with its plays while songs like “Fireproof” lounge in their melancholy. Also, quality shifts. The two aforementioned songs are excellent, while songs like “Sea of Love” and “Slipped” are fine, but instantly forgettable.

This is an album to listen to while staring out at a gray sky. Occasionally, phrases or tunes will reach your mind and draw a smile. They are after all a clever band. Lines like “I am secretly in love with everyone I grew up with” from “Demons” are too human not to relate to. However, like the rain outside, the album is too familiar and too uniform to ever interrupt your inner dialogue, and an album needs to do more to impress.

@murthynikhil

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