The National: I Am Easy to Find review – melodious mood music to enthral

(4AD)
The band’s eighth album hymns other artists including REM on understated songs full of trademark emotional intensity

Do the National do a lot with a little, or a little with a lot? On the one hand, theirs is a lush, grandly developed sound, in which every element fits into place, where textures and tones brush up against each other to create an effect that’s often overwhelming. On the other hand, their desire to never be obvious means the National’s catalogue is hardly replete with bangers: they’ve created a musical universe that, while richly melodic, is more about mood and texture than big hooks.

All of which comes to mind strongly on their eighth album, which is rich with lyrical references to artists whose reputations were built on big hooks: the title track quotes from Echos Myron by Guided By Voices. Not in Kansas refers to “the first two Strokes”, to “listening to REM again / Begin the Begin over and over”, and then quotes The Flowers of Guatemala (it also interpolates the rather less obviously tuneful Thinking Fellers Union Local 282). Not in Kansas is a startling, brilliant song, one that seems to be trying to locate a cultural and geographical home. “Ohio’s in a downward spiral,” Matt Berninger sings, “Can’t go back there any more / Since alt-right opium went viral.” All he can be sure of is that, like Dorothy, he’s not in Kansas: “Where I am, I don’t know where.” It’s set to a gorgeous, limpid, understated melody and arrangement that serves to highlight the emotional intensity of the lyrics.

The whole record works best less as a collection of songs than a sustained mood piece: its moves uptempo (Where Is Her Head, Rylan) are tempered by the stillness that surrounds them. The music burbles, without ever insisting. The lyrics (credited to Berninger, his wife Carin Besser, and Mike Mills, the film director who’s also listed as a co-producer) are both allusive and grounded – in The Pull of You the dichotomy in this desperate pinballing between engagement and distance is pinpointed in a single couplet: “I’m either at the bottom of a well / Or spinning into somebody’s outdoor glass furniture.” It’s an album you can come away from unable to hum a single bar, but so captivating you want to return to it immediately.


Contributor

Michael Hann

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Big Red Machine: How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last? review | Alexis Petridis's album of the week
Aaron Dessner and Justin ‘Bon Iver’ Vernon recruit Taylor Swift, Fleet Foxes and more for this album full of misty autumnal beauty – and a quiet punch

Alexis Petridis

26, Aug, 2021 @10:30 AM

Article image
The National review – self-scrutiny gives way to slapstick and selfies
Debuting their new album, I Am Easy to Find, the Ohio band herald a new phase as lead singer Matt Berninger mellows out

Jazz Monroe

19, Apr, 2019 @11:32 AM

Article image
The National: I Am Easy to Find review – strangely lacklustre
(4AD)

Phil Mongredien

19, May, 2019 @7:00 AM

Article image
Various artists: Day of the Dead review – keeps the freak flag flying
A five-CD, 59-track compilation of alt-rock Grateful Dead covers – curated by the National’s Aaron and Bryce Dessner – reveals the band’s timeless songcraft

Alexis Petridis

19, May, 2016 @2:00 PM

Article image
WH Lung: Incidental Music review – dynamic synth-pop hums with life
Manchester trio’s debut morphs insistent rhythmic themes, building and releasing tension in nervy ecstasy - it’s modern psychedelia maximised

Michael Hann

05, Apr, 2019 @9:30 AM

Article image
The 1975: Notes on a Conditional Form review I Alexis Petridis's album of the week
Piling on genres and themes, the unwieldy NOACF smartly interprets contemporary chaos yet seriously lacks quality control

Alexis Petridis

21, May, 2020 @11:00 AM

Article image
Sam Fender: Seventeen Going Under review – music that punches the air and the gut
The North Shields songwriter replaces his former broad-brush politicking with rousing but arrestingly bleak, personal material that puts his indie-rock peers in the shade

Alexis Petridis

07, Oct, 2021 @11:00 AM

The National: Trouble Will Find Me – review
The sixth album from the National sees them perfecting their brand of ruminative rock, writes Paul Mardles

Paul Mardles

18, May, 2013 @11:04 PM

Article image
Tunisian techno, Xitsongan rap and Satanic doo-wop: the best new music of 2019
From cheeky rappers to explosive hardcore punks, we introduce 50 artists sure to make an impact in the coming year

Ben Beaumont-Thomas, Laura Snapes and Ammar Kalia

28, Dec, 2018 @10:00 AM

Article image
Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig: ‘Rock music is dead, so it's more joyful to me'
As his band gear up for Glastonbury, the singer talks about his Jewish politics and how there are musicians far more privileged than him

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

27, Jun, 2019 @3:35 PM