Perennial Brooklyn sorrow magicians The National are due to release their new record Trouble Will Find Me on May 20th and while lead single ‘Demons’ emerged this week, previews of the record have been hard to come by so far. Thankfully, God is in the TV has its ways and has managed to get hold of a stream of the new record, and has some initial thoughts on one of the most eagerly-anticipated records of 2013.
When The National released Alligator – their third album – way back in April of 2005, few could predict the rich seam of musical gold that the Brooklyn natives were about to uncover. Throughout their subsequent releases – 2007’s Boxer and 2010’s High Violet – the band’s continued and glorious progression has resulted in them becoming one of the most beloved acts in the world; finally crossing over from the underground and into the mainstream. A host of stunning and memorable live performances have also helped cement their status as one of the most consistently wonderful acts in the world today: a band now no longer seen as outsiders but as genuine A-Listers in the pantheon of alternative rock bands.
So, no pressure whatsoever on Trouble Will Find Me then. Thankfully, there’s no need to be overly worried – from first listens it’s clear that The National’s magic touch has not deserted them, and that their thirst for progression is still raging. Trouble Will Find Me may not be the definitive stride that the band has taken between their previous two releases, but regains the same alchemic magic that causes their music to whisk away breath and heartbeats. Whether due to the band’s loftier perch on the tree of indie-rock, Trouble Will Find Me certainly sounds more comfortable in its own skin but sounds all the better for it: the band being able to relax into their sound while retaining their existing ability to flick between sumptuous beauty and visceral fury with consummate ease.
Opening with rumbling toms, dreamlike synths and out-of-step meter, opener ‘I Should Live in Salt’ is an initially soothing welcome, building into a typically skyward climax. Lead single ‘Demons’ is, by contrast, dark and threatening – rolling along the bottom in a scrap of muttered syllables and a cloying, almost electrical production swamp; pokes of scabrous guitar occasionally swirling the mixture. ‘Don’t Swallow The Cap’ has a sparse, almost 1980’s production and a sparseness of feel that allows Berninger’s melody to take centre stage and steadily build. The beauty of the track is in its restraint – rather than heading towards an immediate conclusion, it tantrically builds towards a magnificent glowing climax, as opposed to an explosive release of the tension built. ‘Fireproof’ sees the band draw post-coital breath with a slow track reminiscent of Boxer’s ‘Guest Room’ but ‘Sea of Love’ takes off at a frantic pace again: twisting and turning through veils of harmonies, guitar clashes and Matt Berninger intoning “If I stay here / trouble will find me / If I stay here / I’ll never leave”
‘Heavenfaced’ is genuinely new territory for the band, having a looseness of feel and Berninger’s typical baritone redirected upwards towards the higher echelons. ‘This is the Last Time’ is intriguing, but almost feels like an introduction piece for something else. You feel that the band needs something special at this point and my word, do they oblige. ‘Graceless’ is simply sensational – a dense and tightly-packed swirl of storm and colour that builds wonderfully upon its own bones into something toweringly majestic. It may seem hyperbole but it’s up there with the very best tracks that the band have ever done, the sort of track you find yourself repeating again and again to try and unpick its unfathomable wonderment.
Almost declining to follow on from such a release of emotion, the coda of the record is a reflective and sombre affair. ‘Slipped’ carries a summer nightfall-melancholy in between its staves while the evocative guitar-flickers of ‘I Need My Girl’ is one of The National’s most naked and plaintive tracks in recent memory, almost recalling second record ‘Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers’ in its simplicity; as does the effortless mercury-trickles of ‘Humiliation’. The cracked, 2am piano-bar sing-along of ‘Pink Rabbits’ then leads into the naked, fragile and elegant closer of ‘Hard to Find’ – with silvers of guitar and piano dancing around Berninger’s strained, resigned vocal before a lilting flurry of trumpet and electronic beats come to guide the album home.
Throughout The National’s career thus far, appreciation of their music has been based upon repeat listens across various months, moods and moments. I’m still discovering moments off Alligator and Boxer now that I hadn’t fully appreciated in the last seven years. So as such (and until I get to stick it on the vinyl) it’s difficult to judge its overall merits in relation to their previous work. But it’s certainly very good indeed – a record that combines the DNA of their previous three records with a more sombre, contemplative manner; yet still delivering a swirling maelstrom of emotion when required. While the slow pace of many tracks (and especially the reflective second half) may alienate some long-term fans, there’s a true subtlety within the tracks that becomes clear with frequent listens and the haunting beauty of Matt Berninger’s baritone continues to loom above their music like a sun-framed raincloud and the whole thing sounds simply gorgeous. Though maybe not as immediately dumb-striking as High Violet was back in 2010, it’s a fascinating combination of textures and sounds that only a band with their unique abilities can conjure up. They’re certainly not going to drop the ball on their magnificently consistent record just yet, and in ‘Graceless’, they might just have the album track of 2013 on their hands already. Welcome back boys, we’ve sorely missed you.