Review: Trouble Will Find Me – The National

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This week at Fuzz Records, we got the latest The National LP, Trouble Will Find Me. After the release of 2010’s High Violet, the band finds itself crafting more introspective songs, while still managing to be accessible to core fans and newcomers alike. 

Back in 1982 when The Smiths first formed, there was an interview that took place.  In that interview, starring Morrissey and Johnny Marr as the interviewees, the question was asked, “Why did you decide to call yourselves “The Smiths”?”.  Morrissey’s reply?  “Because it was the most ordinary name”. Although “The Smiths” was an ordinary name, the band was far from “ordinary”, crafting some of the most memorable pop songs of ANY persuasion (indie or otherwise) within the last 30 years. Even though the band’s music (as well as their eccentric frontman, Morrissey) was larger than life, it is good that they chose such a simple name. Out of all the antics, press, promotion and drama, the thing that mattered most always stood out when it came to The Smiths: the music.

Fast-forward a little over ten years after The Smiths breakup and we have The National. Similar to the British indie pop geniuses, The National chose their name because it was simple, meaningless, something to be left to the imagination of the listener.

Hit the jump for the full review!

Ever since their beginnings in the late 90’s/early 2000’s, The National has incorporated plenty of different stylistic influences into their repertoire, from post-punk to folk, Americana to alt-country, as well as indie. To be completely honest, although I have heard about the praise that The National has received over the past decade, this is MY PERSONAL first exposure the band’s music, as far as listening to an entire LP.  While I had some second guesses about listening to Trouble Will Find Me (due to the simple fact I have been listening to Sunbather, Bibio, etc.), I have to say that I overall enjoyed the album. It might have lacked some jaw-dropping moments, however, this LP is The National’s most accessible effort, laced with some nice melodies, strong songwriting and genuine emotion.

The album starts off with “I Should Live in Salt”, which I thought, upon my first listen, was a song that could be featured on a ABC Family drama. You know exactly what I am talking about, one of those songs where a melancholic acoustic guitar in strummed, featuring the prominent vocals of a ragged-voiced male, singing about his “pain.” Further listening, however, let me realize that frontman Matt Berninger is real when he states “You should know me better than that”, as if I should personally know him better than my expectations allow me to. The song does not “explode” with any swells of instrumentation, however, it does crescendo into the other instruments pretty nicely, evolving into something that gives closure. “Demons” is the following song, one that follows a familiar format and structure as the opener. The track has a slow tempo and the beat is very steady and monstrous, giving the song an airy quality amongst the wall of sound. As Berninger sings “I stay down/ With my Demons”, I am reminded of a singer like Ian Curtis to an extent. Although the music that is accompanying Berninger’s singing on this song is not sprawling with post-punk influence, this is not far-fetched, for The National has taken influence directly from Joy Division before.

Throughout the first half of the album, this method of familiarity works up to and through the midpoint of the album, with the song “This Is The Last Time” acting as the bridge. Up until this point, the album followed the same template for most of the songs, with the tempo being the only thing that changed. While this may be cool for some folks, I could see how others (particularly Anthony Fantano of theneedledrop) may call this project “boring”. This album is more about introspection and patience, rather than visceral in your face driving rhythms. “This Is The Last Time” is one of the more drawn out songs on the album, with some violins dipping into the back of the mix. It reminds me of some of the flourishing moments that were prevalent on Kurt Vile’s latest album, the way all of the elements of the song blend together in an ethereal flurry. 

“Graceless” proceeds the midpoint of the album, being one of the most uptempo songs on the album with its post-punk rhythm. It does not have the abrasive energy that, say, Savages had on Silence Yourself, but the emotion is there and it seems real. This follows through to the song “I Need My Girl”, a more subdued song that is still ripe with Berninger’s baritone vocals and dismal lyrics about how he feels “smaller and smaller” without his girl.

This is followed by my favorite moment on the entire album, “Humiliation”, which culminates all of the best aspects of Trouble Will Find Me into one song. In the beginning of the track, the beat is what drives the track, giving off the same post-punk feeling as “Graceless”. However, the song crescendos into this catchy-as-hell melodic groove over the bridge, the type of melody that I wish occurred more throughout the former half of the album. You think that the catchiness is over, and then rhythm evolves AGAIN into the coda of the song. I do not know how to describe the feeling that this coda gives me but if I were to try, I would say it’s like driving on I-87 with the sun shining on your dashboard, giving you a sense of blissful escapism. 

“Hard to Find” closes out the album in a semi-resolving way. It is a good song, however, since this song is just as formulaic as a lot of the songs on the album, it feels as if it could fit into any point across the album’s layout. This reminds me of “Goldtone”, the closing song on Wakin On a Pretty Daze, just not as flushed out, instrumentally robust or fully realized. It is a pretty song, pleasant and it offers a sense of closure. I just wish that for a closing song that it was as flushed out as “Humiliation”.

Listening to this album in its entirety, I do not get the feeling of a connecting concept, or at least one that is cohesive. Berninger sings of heartbreak and yearning, however I get the feeling that these songs are more a collection of songs that are fragmented, instead of flowing. Also, although I believe that this album requires patient listening in order to see the layers beneath some of the tracks, it can get pretty boring at moments. The emotion here is real….BUT, it can be corny at times and seem “whiny” (seriously, how many times do I have to hear about the heartbreak of dude and how much he needs his gal?)

I get that stories about relationships are always going to exist. That being said, I also understand the fact that people are going to want more variety when those stories are told. This could make some people feel like “Why the hell do I need to listen to this album?”, without appreciating the good moments on the album. When all is said and done, I do believe thatTrouble Will Find Me is a worthwhile album, especially for The National fans. Some good melodies, pleasant washes of reverb and authentic vocals make this album a cool listen.
 
Overall:
– I believe fans of introspection and patience over immediacy will definitely enjoy this album. Trouble Will Find Me is a slow simmering album that requires multiple listens in order to enjoy the shy melodies and spacious soundscapes. Once you get past the pacing of the album, some of the moments can be very rewarding and generously good, such as “Humiliation”.

– I know a lot of you want in your face, “fuck shit up” basslines and rhythms.  However, this is not the place to find those elements of music. If you try to find those things here, I am pretty sure you are going to be rather disappointed. Also, if you are fed up with relationship songs, do not be surprised if you are pissed off when you listen to this thing.

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