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The Brooklyn-based rockers offer understated lushness on their latest album.
The Brooklyn-based rockers offer understated lushness on their latest album.

The National lets go and gets comfortable Add to ...

  • Title Trouble Will Find Me
  • Artist The National
  • Label 4AD
  • Rating 3.5/4
  • Year 2013

Recently the National performed their song Sorrow for six hours straight as part of a sonic installation at New York’s MoMA. Three-hundred and sixty minutes of sorrow. A cynic says, that sounds like three stock concerts by the National to me.

Singer-lyricist Matt Berninger might smile, might agree. Then he might sing Demons, off Trouble Will Find Me, the National’s graceful turning point and excellent new album. There’s the line “I’m going through an awkward phase,” which will raise a grin to those who know about the man and his perpetual insecurities. More importantly, the song is an embrace by Berninger of his own darkness – “It’s become the crux of me / I wish that I could rise above it, but I stay down with my demons.”

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So, Berninger is finally comfortable. And perhaps the band – a serious-minded quintet that includes two sets of brothers on all instruments – has followed his lead. There is a growth and liberation to Trouble Will Find Me, an album that sounds like the National, but isn’t completely tied down to the melodic drone-rock that had become a bit too samey for some. There is understated lushness, occasional sentimentality, tense relaxation, new-wave recollections, a flow-with-it undertow and a variance in beats and song-to-song style.

With the breakout success of 2010’s High Violet, the satisfying Brooklyn-based murmur-workers had reached a place they long strove for. “I feel like for the past 10 years we’d been chasing something, wanting to prove something,” Berninger told an interviewer recently. “Early on we were labelled as alt-country, sleepy miserablists, and that stung, especially because it was partly true. So for a long time, we were motivated in our songwriting to prove that wrong.”

And now the National can relax, not needing to verify their identity any more.

Not that Trouble Will Find Me is free-wheeling and sunshine. Lyrics are marked by wry contemplations on mortality. Humiliation is hazy and organ drenched, with an insistent drum beat that runs in place rather than moving things along. The poignant Heavenfaced knock, knock, knocks on Dylan’s and U2’s door. It’s the National in their most beautiful moves yet, with Berninger rising to a register his throat hadn’t known before.

The album closes with the spare hum of Hard to Find. “I can see the glowing lights,” it begins, “I can see them every night, really not that far away …” It’s a song about held memories and a past young love – “There’s a lot I’ve not forgotten, but I let go of other things.”

Letting go, moving on. The National does it.

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