The National – Trouble Will Find Me (4AD)
May 29, 2013 by Tom Baker
“The band has almost ended here and there. I think we got past a lot of the ways it could have ended and ended badly,” Matt Berninger recently confessed. “I don’t know how long is healthy to be a rock band. We’ve been on for almost 14 years, so another five years might be too much.”
Reports of The National’s demise may turn out to be exaggerated, but regardless, this could turn out to be their masterpiece. Six albums deep and nearly a decade spent perfecting their singular form of moody, ruminative alt-rock – more melody than Low, less country than Wilco, as obsessed with death of Nick Cave and his Bad Seeds but increasingly less enamoured with the Old Testament – has lead the group to Trouble Will Find Me.
Unlike many modern bands, the Brooklyn ensemble’s debut is probably their slightest album; they’ve gotten consistently better over time, like the sort of fine wine Berninger knocks back before heading to the vocal both to lay down some baritone confessions about being ‘in love with everyone [he] grew up with’. The percussive power of Bryan Devendorf, the band’s drummer, remains one of the strongest parts of the group, carrying along the Dessner twins’ increasingly complex arrangements (the strings on the likes of ‘Demons’ are an especially brilliant addition).
Where Alligator and High Violet were strongest when they were speeding up, the breakthrough album sandwiched between them – Boxer – was a lot more meditative, almost dirge-like at times. Trouble Will Find Me finds a way to make both these sides of The National work; ‘Don’t Swallow The Cap’ has all the atmosphere of ‘Fake Empire’ with the tempo of ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’, while ‘I Need My Girl’ is a slow burn with the melodic sense of a ‘Looking For Astronauts’.
More “songs about death – but in a fun way” as Berninger said in another interview. Trouble Will Find Me is a glorious, morbid record, with more emotion than emo, more melody than indie. A proper grown-up album. But in a fun way.