The National are, let’s face it, a little long in the tooth. One of the only band’s left from the onslaught of noughties indie acts, the ex-Brooklynites have done that curious thing and found themselves at their most vibrant and experimental at the latter stages of their career. Their 8th studio album I Am Easy To Find marks the band out as one of the brightest lights out there.
Matt Beringer, the leading man of The National more often than not finds himself starring with a female vocalist on this album. A marked change from the band’s otherwise sis-white-male standpoint, and it’s one which utterly changes the band’s complexion. Moving firmly and furiously away from 2017’s Sleep Well Beast with all its electronic drone, this record feels lighter, more intelligent and realistic because of it. This is no longer Beringer doing his ‘suavest hobo poet in the room’ schtick speaking into his bottle with a gravel tone only the glassy listener could’ve provided. It’s now a well overdue conversation.
The fulfilling part of this notion, which many had labeled as a cynical move away from their ‘boys club’ image (something the band heavily refute), is that it puts these singers at centre stage. The band employs some of the best singers around to take part in the debate. With Lisa Hannigan, Mina Tindle, Kate Stables and Sharon Van Etten all finding the spotlight throughout the LP. There’s even a moment for Brooklyn Youth Chorus to entirely take the reins on ‘Dust Swirls in Strange Light’ which leaves out Berninger all together.
In fact, one of the finest moments of the album comes not from Beringer or the band but the autumn-hued refrain of Gail Ann Dorsey on the album opener ‘You Had Your Soul With You’. The former David Bowie bassist offering a cultured and comforting layer to the band’s frenetic rhythm. It transcends from the performance to lyrically too as Beringer’s wife Carin Besser found contributions to lyrics strewn throughout the record.
The album is filled to the brim with an array of artists and contributors, 13 violinists feature on this record. Thirteen. But such was the work of producer Mike Mills that the album rarely feels too heavy or congested. Instead, with Mills heavy editing prowess, the album is filling, built with complex and sweet movements, without being sluggish – the perfect meal.
I Am Easy To Find is a fair few courses though. At a run time of 64 minutes, it is the longest of The National’s albums and can at times feel a little monotonous. ‘Rylan’ and ‘Hairpin Turns’ wouldn’t look out of place on the cutting room floor, for example. But the album’s length does allow us to slow cook some of the songs. The textured and sumptuous ‘Quiet Light’ is a triumph, while ‘Oblivions’ feels like a beautiful reaction against modern gravity.
The National find themselves at crossroads of their career. All roads leading somewhere exciting and encouraging, the tarmac melting at their feet in a world that refuses to cool down, the band simply choose to remove their shoes and socks and step on the dirt. Effortlessly, the band continues to tread their own path only ever feeling safe because they know their own direction of travel.