The National – I Am Easy To Find

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I Am Easy To Find, The National’s new album and accompanying Mike Mills-directed film, is a meditation on life. The comings and the goings. The loving and the longing. The hopes and the fears. There’s a strong sense of nostalgic melancholy. How you felt when you lied to your mother for the first time. When you realized your children were no longer children. When you lost a person you love and the days became almost unbearable. But it’s not a miserable album. As in life too, there’s the presence of uplifting beauty. In the swelling of the strings. The choir of voices. And the gentle cadence of the melodies on so many of the songs. In contrast to other albums, Matt Berninger’s voice is not always the core vocal. There are female voices, often female leads, on all of the songs. So we’re still witness to Berninger’s usual authenticity when he tells us he’s been “binging hard on Annette Bening” and “listening to R.E.M. again”. But hearing a woman sing a line such as “Lay down in the doorway in front of me, Make yourself impossible for me to leave” brings a very different meaning to the scene. When you’re stuck in the middle of life, it’s tempting to think that the last thing you need is a 68-minute slightly melancholic meditation on it. But you’d be wrong. Taking time to reflect on life is always a good thing. And appreciating the beauty that’s present in it isn’t just a good thing, it’s what gives life its very meaning with all its comings and goings, loving and longing, and hopes and fears.

Day of the Dead

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This is the second all-star indie charity album produced by Aaron and Bryce Dessner of The National. Both have benefited the Red Hot Organisation, which is an HIV/AIDS not-for-profit. The first, Dark Was The Night, appeared in 2009 and featured some great tracks, including ‘Brackett, WI’ by Bon Iver and a lovely version of ‘Lua’ by Conor Oberst and Gillian Welch. This time the format is different. Clocking in at approximately three-and-a-half weeks long (only a slight exaggeration), Day of the Dead is a 59-track collection of Grateful Dead covers. The performers comprise a who’s who of contemporary indie royalty. There’s Courtney Barnett, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Kurt Vile, Local Natives, and many, many more. With such a stellar cast of characters, it’s difficult to know how to parse the contributions, not least because the running order varies as a function of whether you’re listening to it as a download or CD. There’s some slightly wearying experimental work on the second half of CD 4, but there are also some real revelations, ‘Black Muddy River’ by Bruce Hornsby and DeYarmond Edison being one, and, hard though it is to believe, ‘Friend of the Devil’ by Mumford and Sons. What’s really nice, though, is that the vast majority of the tracks sound just like you’d want them to. Whether it’s The War on Drugs, Phosphorescent, Bill Callahan, or The National themselves, they inhabit their respective covers really well. Some people will bemoan a certain lack of noodling, choogling, and general guitar boogying. And others will be dismissive of the fact that there isn’t more experimental excess, though there’s always The Flaming Lips. But by generally paring back the potential for unbridled extravagance, the Dessner brothers and Josh Kaufman have produced a much more cohesive album than might be expected. So, support Day of the Dead. It not only helps a worthy cause, it’s also, whisper it, a really good listen.

The National – Trouble Will Find Me

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There’s an alternate universe in which a band called The National have just released a new album called Trouble Will Never Find Me. It’s full of stadium-friendly guitar riffs and Olympic-sized drumming. At summer festivals in that alternate universe The National always get top billing and some otherwise very serious young men go totally nuts whenever they perform. In our universe, by contrast, The National have just released an album called Trouble Will Find Me. It’s a totally different world. Whereas you might expect the opening track, ‘I Should Live In Salt’, to be altogether anthemic, the pace is measured, the mood downbeat. This is a very deliberate statement. The National are saying that if they have to be likened to R.E.M., then they’re going to be the R.E.M. of Murmur not Out Of Time. For sure, ‘Sea Of Love’, ‘Humiliation’, and ‘Graceless’ up the pace, but there are precious few, if any, stadium-sized hooks and only ‘Pink Rabbits’ with its lovely piano-driven melody comes anywhere close to being jaunty. Refreshingly, this is a set of songs where you have to do the listening work. And, like pretty much every exercise of that sort, there are rewards. ‘Slipped’ could be just another doleful little song, but wait for the the chorus and it turns out to be quite delicate. ‘I Need My Girl’ keeps wanting to take off, but is kept nicely in check. With Trouble Will Find Me, The National have done little to dispel their largely self-inflicted tortured artist effect. As a consequence, up and down the land lots of very serious young men are listening to this album very carefully, dissecting the lyrics and waiting for that festival where The National are headlining and where they can go totally nuts for an hour or two at least. More power to them.

Pitchfork review

Paste Magazine review

PopMatters review

Consequence of Sound review

Drowned In Sound review

Pretty Much Amazing review