Released: May 21, 2013
I’ve never fallen in love with a record from The National after a first listen. Their contemplative lyrical imagery is so rich it often takes me a few spins to either extract the meaning or better yet interpret my own meaning. And I think that is all part of the appeal of this particular band. It’s easy enough to enjoy the face value of The National’s brooding but ambitiously melodic indie rock. They have written anthems for stadiums and bedrooms alike with cryptic hooks that are easy to sing along to but not always easy to understand (“I was carried to Ohio in a swarm of bees”). I was recently looking for some wisdom about writing music criticism and nearly every seasoned critic had the same piece of advice: spending more time with an album will equip you to critique it and write about it more effectively. Its hard to spend a significant amount of time with any one of their albums and not grow to appreciate it even more with each listen and it’s no surprise that The National have grown to become one of the most critically acclaimed indie rock bands of the past decade. It’s not that their music is inaccessible, it’s just so much more enjoyable after its been lived in for a while and like your favorite pair of jeans, the longer you keep them around the more comfortably they seem to fit. While they fail to eclipse their nearly perfect previous release High Violet, The National have returned with Trouble Will Find Me, a warm and personal album that fits nicely into an already stellar discography.
The album begins with “I Should Live In Salt”, a mid tempo rock song that is draped in the fractured intimacy that The National have perfected. Lead singer Matt Berninger seems to address both the audience as well as a romantic partner as he repeats the phrase “You should know me better than that” throughout the song. This seems to be a mission statement for an album that doesn’t seem to defy or exceed expectations. Each release from The National has been their best album to date and I think that the expectations of exceeding the critical and commercial hit High Violet influenced their approach to this album. They aren’t swinging for the fences nor are they reinventing their sound, they are simply here to deliver excellent indie rock and if you expected something different, well, you should know them better than that. In this way Trouble Will Find Me features The National more or less at peace with themselves. This doesn’t always work to their advantage as they have thrived on somber emotional turmoil and self doubt and to hear them feel vaguely comfortable and somewhat confident neutralizes what has often fueled their best creative output. In some places this new found attitude inspires a level of focus and directness that we have rarely seen in the band which is certainly a positive. But the downside is that without an almost primal artistic desire to express that emotional strife, a few songs innocuously fail to capture my attention.
Now just because a few songs are a little on the dull side doesn’t mean that this is a dull record. The majority of the songs on this album are emotionally gripping and enjoyable in a uniquely National way. Songs like “Sea of Love”, “Don’t Swallow The Cap”, “Graceless” and “Humiliation” are mid tempo rock tracks that are driven by meticulous percussion, lightly fuzzed guitars and Matt Berninger’s signature baritone vocals. The softer side of Trouble Will Find Me is filled with imagery and storytelling that stacks up against anything they have ever released. There was a moment that gave me chills on the crushing ballad “I Need My Girl” when he describes a scene where a driver crashes a car into a garden and she gets out and apologizes to the vines “and no one saw it”. It’s a moment that is a little funny, a little sad, and astonishingly human. In that moment, Berninger speaks to the audience as a confidant, willing to tell his most private stories and that level of honesty is a wonder behold.
Ultimately, I think that is what draws me so strongly to this album and every album from The National. Their depiction of the human experience is so personal and relatable that their narratives seem to give my own experience more clarity and meaning. They openly invite you into their own stories and you can’t help but feel connected to the images and emotions they are trying convey. I’ve been enjoying music from The National since I was 18 and I’ve kept their music close to my heart ever since. They’ve been with me through painful and joyous times and Trouble Will Find Me is another wonderful albeit imperfect collection of songs that reminds me that the challenges of adulthood are often surrounded by beautiful moments of connection, intimacy and inspiration.
Top Tracks: “Sea of Love”, “I Need My Girl”, “Don’t Swallow The Cap”