Album Review: The National – Trouble Will Find Me

by Matt Juniper

Artist: The National
Release: Trouble Will Find Me (2013)
Label: 4AD
Rating: 4.5 / 5

national trouble will find me2010 marked quite the year for The National. The release of ‘Boxer’ gave them worldwide acclaim but it was ‘High Violet’ that truly thrust them into the spotlight, making them perhaps the biggest band in the world that 80% of the population has never heard of. Essentially they become the indie world’s worst kept secret – selling out multiple stadium shows in the same cities and headlining festivals across the world – yet still evoking blank stares from most people when I mention them. Such is the age of the internet I suppose, where it is all too easy to ignore pretty much anything we are not directly seeking out.

2010 was also the first time I ever really worried about The National. They’ve been my favourite active band for the better part of a decade. The tortured mess of songs that make up ‘Alligator’ form what is probably my favourite album ever. And then ‘Boxer’ reigned all that energy in and harnessed it, a collection of songs that feel restrained but always ready to explode. Then came lead single Bloodbuzz Ohio from ‘High Violet,’ one of the least inspired songs by The National to date. Sounding much like a b-side from ‘Boxer’ and that the band was just phoning it in. For a band so reliant on subtlety of storytelling, the loss of authenticity is a death sentence.

My first listen to ‘High Violet’ was about as depressing as I could have imagined. Everything felt utterly lifeless. While I’ve come around to the back half of the album, the stretch from Sorrow (track 2) – Bloodbuzz Ohio (track 6) is still the weakest stretch of music the band has released since its debut.

So needless to say I really had no idea what to expect from ‘Trouble Will Find Me’. A return to form or a further detachment from the emotional connection I had made with the band in the first place. The first two singles, Demons & Don’t Swallow the Cap were like a breath of fresh air. I truly can’t offer one objective piece of evidence that these tracks are any more genuine than anything off of ‘High Violet’ – but they just FEEL much more like a band interested in making music for the sake of making music again and not just perfecting a signature sound.

Watch the first video lifted from ‘Trouble Will Find Me’ below via YouTube.

This album brings with it a full 13 tracks like this – picking up pieces of learnings from each of their past efforts and using it to craft something entirely unique. Alligator’s sloppy hopelessness, Boxer’s focus on constraint, High Violet’s pointed instrumentation and Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers’ warm and fuzziness. The first day I heard this, it was pouring rain and I just sat by the window with headphones in and played it over and over again. There is just something so infinitely comforting about hearing Berninger attempt to sort out his life so publicly, particularly when you realize he has none of the answers. It’s not about happy endings, it’s about finding those life-affirming moments in our present and in our memories amongst all the rest of the muck and shit we’re ploughing through. And if the National can keep finding new ways to explore that, I’ll stay infatuated forever.

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