I Am Easy to Find
Cincinnati-born five piece The National released I Am Easy To Find in spring 2019. Their eighth effort is a quite frankly a masterful union of the band’s traditional autumnal, contemplative back catalogue (Alligator, Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers, to name but two), and the synthed up offerings of its predecessor, Sleep Well Beast (2017).
While some less-than-eloquent music pundits have described The National as “Dad Rock,” their sound these days lends itself more to melancholic math rock, where drum and percussion intertwine with subtle or poppy synth, piano, choirs, and vocalist Matt Berninger’s lyrics, laser-focused once again on the achingly beautiful nature of humanity, internal worlds, and relationships. If you like to read lyrics while listening, I have great news cats and kittens: a lyric sheet is included (at least with the physical copy).
A stellar addition to this offering, are female vocals that manage to swoop and dive with exceptional harmony alongside Berninger’s baritone. Gail Ann Dorsey (studio; David Bowie’s backing band), Lisa Hannigan (Damien Rice; solo), Kate Stables (This Is The Kit), Sharon Van Etten (solo), and others, all take turns adding depth and texture to tracks. While Dorsey’s voice matches Berninger’s in terms of its warmth and complexity, Stables and Hannigan provide vocals that are at once delicate yet substantial, a certain porcelain-like quality.
This band never was and still isn’t dance party music, it’s nearly literary in quality, carefully composed, and can at times feel precariously complex, layered with sound. This release is no exception, and you can expect to need to listen to tracks several times over to catch all there is to hear. At the base of it, The National has always been about the combination of the Dessner brother’s arresting music and Berninger’s wordplay, which never strays far from his patented smirky non-sequetors (‘Is this how I lose it? Everything at once? Carried into space by a dolphin balloon?’ – ‘The Pull of You’) to revelatory of human condition (‘It’s half your fault so half forgive me’- ‘Not In Kansas’). The latter referenced track is a standout, an adult lullaby comprising references to bad acid, religion, and tales of childhood hockey injury. ‘Rylan’ is a total mix of old and new The National, with orchestral touches and harmonies hitched up to a drum track. ‘You Had Your Soul With You’ recalls the frenetic energy of their last release, and closer ‘Light Years’ is another lullaby, with tender piano and pensive lyrics; if this were a different era I’d advise you to bring your lighter to live shows for the occasion…
As much as I liked Sleep Well Beast and appreciated the musical growth it provided, I yearned for The National that I’d fallen in love with: that fits well with midnight hours, too much red wine, and grey skies. Happily, I Am Easy To Find offers both new and old fans something substantial.
For those who loved Sleep Well Beast:
‘You Had Your Soul With You’
‘The Pull of You’
‘Dust Swirls in Strange Light’
For The National traditionalists:
‘I Am Easy to Find’
‘Where Is Her Head’
‘Not In Kansas’