Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The National Finds Some More Trouble

The National
There is no question that Trouble Will Find Me by The National is downbeat and subdued when compared to the 2010 release of High Violet. But the tempo hardly matters when listening the distinctive deep baritone of singer-songwriter Matt Berninger.

Formed in 1999 by a bunch of Ohio natives playing in Brooklyn, The National spent almost three years compiling material for their self-titled debut in 2001. What made the debut even more extraordinary was that Berninger, Aaron Dessner (guitar, bass, keys), Bryce Dessner (guitar), Scott Devendorf (bass, guitar), and Bryan Devendorf (drums) had never even played a single live show before releasing it.

The three-year investment, recorded with the help of engineer Nick Lloyd and and released on the Brassland label founded by Alec Bemis, paid off and the debut earned its place among the alternative underground. While the debut was a landmark beginning, it was only a beginning. The world-weary sound of Berninger and The National is light years ahead from where they started.

Trouble Will Find Me is an artistic collection of visceral tunes. 

Written almost immediately after the band had returned from a two-year tour in support of High Violet, the tone of the album was mostly set by guitarist Aaron Dessner, who would sneak into the studio with extreme sleep deprivation caused in part by his newborn daughter. He sent along dozens of musical fragments to Berninger for a listen.

“He’d be so tired while he was playing his guitar and working on ideas that he wouldn’t intellectualize anything," said Berninger, who says it's rare for either Dessner to send him anything unfinished. "This time around, they sent me sketch after sketch that immediately got me on a visceral level.”

The early work changed everything. The band hadn't even planned to record anything for a year or two, but quickly found a new motivation. Instead of feeling tense, everything fell into place and created a cohesion that takes the band someplace they never anticipated.

Although not the strongest song on the album (but close), Sea Of Love does capture the sentiment. All throughout Trouble Will Find Me are self-lacerating glimpses of indecision when big things in life happen. Love, life, birth, death, separation, depression can make you wonder how you ended up somewhere.

Don't Swallow The Cap touches on the same self-reflective theme and there isn't a better track on the album. That's not to say other tracks don't measure up. On the contrary, there is much to love about this shadowy series of self-destructive, addictive glimmers of uncertainty with everything one loves on the table.

Perhaps the most haunting thing about the album is best conveyed on Demons, which hits the hardest parts of the album. The lyrics reveal a depression-induced urban ennui. None of what is felt here is caused by a lack of friends or necessities, love or possibilities. It's self-induced loneliness, a paralyzing and unexplained emotion that takes hold.

Other magnificent and brooding tracks include the piano-laced Pink Rabbits, the escapism of This Is The Last Time, and the most uptempo tune, Graceless. But aside from these songs, suffice to say that the album plays best with all 13 tracks to complete it. It's also the only way to catch a few carefully planted nods to great artists and some tongue-in-cheek lyric lines that will make a few people smile in the sorrow of it all.

Trouble Will Find Me Abandons 9.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

One aspect I've always appreciated about The National is their honesty without being pretentious. They know who they are and that the troubles they sing about are reserved for people who don't have real troubles. The power of this band is their poetic and heart-wrenching images, along with an ability to emote it all through Berninger's vocals and the balance of the band's instruments.

Trouble Will Find Me by The National is available from Amazon. You can also find the album on Barnes & Noble and download it from iTunes. Although the band never intended to be touring again so soon, they have a huge tour starting up in June. Check for play dates on Facebook.
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