18 April 2019 (released)
18 April 2019
In a musical sense, the word ‘progressive’ often sets off alarm bells, bringing to mind the excesses of prog rock giants like Yes during the 1970s. Cincinnati quintet The National, however, are musically progressive in a more inviting sense. Eight albums into their career, they may not be taking their sound into wildly unfamiliar territory, but nor are they content to simply rewrite their previous efforts ad nauseam. ‘I Am Easy To Find’ follows this trajectory; a record with its own distinct feel, yet unmistakably the work of The National.
Whilst 2017’s ‘Sleep Well Beast’ was the sound of a band exorcising demons in their own understated way, their latest offering finds this troupe of troubled souls in a more contemplative mood. There are odes to love, loneliness, regret, fear, and all combinations thereof, and whilst the term ‘cinematic’ is much overused with these guys, the likes of ‘Hairpin Turns’ and the title track are replete with the kind of shimmering keyboards and sparse beats that could easily soundtrack a quality art-house film. Incidentally, the record shares its title with a short film by independent cinema director Mike Mills; the two projects are described as “playfully hostile siblings that love to steal from each other”.
The most instantly noticeable change from previous efforts is the regular appearance of guest vocalists; mostly women, including Bowie collaborator Gail Ann Dorsey, and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus - the latter on a spine-tingling a cappella interlude. For the most part, this collaborative approach works beautifully; witness Mina Tindle harmonising with Matt Berninger over the mournful piano chords of ‘Roman Holiday’, or Lisa Hannigan and Sharon Von Etten providing a softer counterpart to the abrasive guitars of ‘The Pull Of You’.
Berninger still shines, though; his baritone accompanied by little more than a plaintively-picked guitar on ’Not In Kansas’. Instantly memorable, both in its musical simplicity, and a winning turn of phrase: “I read whatever it is you give me/It’s half your fault so half-forgive me”.
If ‘I Am Easy To Find’ has a weak point, it’s that which you might expect from a 16-track record; with a couple of songs merely floating by pleasantly on an other mesmerising album. The National have long since claimed their rightful place near the upper echelons of festival bills, but this is a record that, by its nature, almost begs to be performed in settings as intimate as its subject matter. Should they ever bring it to life in its entirety, you won’t be disappointed.