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The National - I Am Easy To Find (Album Review)

Friday, 31 May 2019 Written by Helen Payne

As we’ve come to know the National over the last two decades, we’ve also become familiar with the different facets of Matt Berninger’s appeal. If we were to split the frontman’s charm into thirds, to one side we’d have his lackadaisical, sometimes off-kilter delivery, in the middle his all-hell-breaking-loose animalistic shrieks, and to the other side his highly visual lyrical style.

But on the National's latest release, ‘I Am Easy To Find’, Berninger, the Dessner twins and the Devendorf brothers have thrown something new into the mix: different lead vocalists, as well a short film by Mike Mills. While taking creative risks is important, here the Ohio group have somewhat compromised existing charms for art’s sake.

Adding female vocalists is a big, yet delightful, jump. First, Gail Ann Dorsey, a long-term bandmate of David Bowie, brings a new sonic layer to proceedings.

Later we get the folk-driven melodies of Kate Stables from This Is The Kit, the tenderness of Mina Tindle, the vibrancy of Sharon Van Etten, as well as previous collaborator Lisa Hannigan and even the Brooklyn Youth Choir.

This network of flawless vocalists takes away from some of the gauche loveliness we are used to with the National, but transports us instead to a world of heavenly tones and textures. While straying from the path, ‘I Am Easy To Find’ is still a stunning record that will assume total control of headphones, bedrooms and, eventually, arenas.

Lyrically, though, there are surprising moments that don’t meet expectations. The title track’s “I’m still standing in the same place where you left me standing” and “Where I am I don’t know where” on Not In Kansas are disruptive and feel out of place, along with Hey Rosey’s “I think I know just what the feeling is.” The lyrics here are too abstract for a band who have thrived on simple, concrete images to do the emotional work for them.

This is where Mills’ film comes in. Although the short and album are termed “playfully hostile siblings that love to steal from each other” by the director, perhaps the lack of visual imagery in the lyrics is made up for in actual visuals. A cinematic appendage could be the perfect add on for a band that elicits emotion so easily that they can get away with having no words at all, yet to rely on such a supplement is a failing.

Despite these foibles, ‘I Am Easy To Find’ is not a disappointment. It’s the opposite. It’s still luxurious indie-rock music decorated with complex electronic sounds, a theme they discovered on 2017’s ‘Sleep Well Beast’ and are keen to keep exploring. As well as the radio friendly single You Had Your Soul With You and the much-anticipated live favourite Rylan, it’s home to the choral etherality of Her Father in the Pool and Dust Swirls In Strange Light, the visceral, spiralling strings of Quiet Light, the pulsing pull of Oblivions and Where Is Her Head, which feels distinctly like a ‘Neon Bible’-era Arcade Fire cut.

The National have grown up. No longer writing songs about awkward men who don’t know how to behave at parties, the group have created a fully realised universe that incorporates bigger sonic landscapes than we’ve ever seen from them before. It’s a foray into cinema and a tapestry of collective identities. Collaboration is a concept the band are used to through their side gigs, but ‘I Am Easy To Find’ is their most adventurous and momentous team effort...so far.

The National Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Wed July 10 2019 - MANCHESTER Castlefield Bowl
Sat July 13 2019 - LONDON Hyde Park
Tue August 06 2019 - GLASGOW Kelvingrove Bandstand
Wed August 07 2019 - GLASGOW Kelvingrove Bandstand
Sat December 07 2019 - BRIGHTON Centre
Sun December 08 2019 - LEEDS first direct Arena
Mon December 09 2019 - CARDIFF Motorpoint Arena Cardiff
Tue December 10 2019 - NOTTINGHAM Motorpoint Arena Nottingham

Click here to compare & buy The National Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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