Atmosphere. Emotion. Raw feeling. The National are a shortcut to emotion. They leave you feeling empty and used – but absolutely thrilled about it.
You get a feeling of turmoil, of regret, of lost times and nostalgia. And it’s so present, so completely there, that somehow it becomes cathartic. It becomes freeing.
The first time most listen to The National, they can be underwhelmed. But then it clicks: the understanding that you need to feel the tracks, to really listen and understand. After that first listen, you’re in. You’ve fallen down the rabbit hole. After that, it becomes effortless.
About two minutes into Trouble Will Find Me, that familiar feeling is back. You fall into it, comforting and familiar. The National aren’t breaking any new ground, but they are retreading the same ground they have been for the past three albums. And at this point, they have really gotten rather good at it.
The band’s sound has always been one of an impossibly complex minimalism, driven by Matt Berninger’s understated yet booming baritone. Berninger’s range has always caused detractors to label the band ‘boring’ – discrediting or outright ignoring the almost orchestral sound created by the rest of the band, and the emotion this gives Berninger’s disparaging tone. The emotion created by Berninger’s lyrics, straight out of his “medium-sized American heart”. The emotion which serves as the soul of the bands appeal.
Bravely, Trouble Will Find Me has done nothing to alleviate this complexity. The band has always been on a slow burn, only recently starting to enter the so-called ‘mainstream consciousness’ with 2010’s High Violet, after over a decade of recording. It would have been easy to capitalise on this by releasing a ‘gateway’ album. In fact, Trouble Will find Me is probably one of the least accessible albums the band has released. It is less charged than previous albums. The hooks are less obvious. There are no lyrics that cause you stop and think, ‘Wow. You’ve got it. That’s the definitive description of that feeling. Everyone else can stop now.’ Instead, we have an album that is probably the most carefully put together release from the band. Everything is crafted beautifully and deliberately – but possibly to its own detriment. Nothing stands out. It still has that atmosphere, it still has that emotion, but it’s not expressed as completely. Compared to past releases it’s implicit, not explicit.
But it will still grab you, if you give it the chance. It will still grant you that melancholy happiness, if you can grant the use of a musical reviewers cliché. And if you’ll do that, I’m sure you’ll grant another: Trouble Will Find Me is beautifully bittersweet. If you never let those clichés stand again, let them stand here. The National earn them, time and over again.
4 stars ★★★★✰