The Jakarta Post
I Am Easy To Find By The National. (4AD/-)
United States indie rock band The National’s new album, I Am Easy To Find, brings in a host of musical guests, all to shape an album with elements of a short film that shares its title.
I Am Easy To Find, the band’s eighth full-length album, is one of the most contentious sounding ones, even as its continues the electronic flourishes of its immediate predecessor, 2017's Sleep Well Beast.
The album is a collaborative work of sorts with filmmaker Mike Mills. While The National has stated that I Am Easy To Find is “not a soundtrack” to the 24-minute film, the relationship between the film and the album is there and far from hidden.
Mills uses stems from the album to score parts of his film, offering up slightly different versions of songs from the album to complete his visuals. Meanwhile, The National utilized stills and photos from the film for its artwork, as well as other artistic elements from it.
More significantly, the band also brought in a host of female vocalists, somewhat as an interpretation of the film's narrative and ambience. These vocalists – Lisa Hannigan, Sharon Van Etten, Mina Tindle, Gail Ann Dorsey and Kate Stables – appear as more than featured artists.
Oftentimes, their voices take the center stage that is usually occupied by the characteristic baritone of the band’s frontman, Matt Berninger. This is outwardly the biggest change to ever occur within The National's music and fans who have held onto Berninger's voice as the band's most constant element may find themselves taken aback at first.
However, the lyrics and melodic sensibilities bring it all back – and the instrumentations, too, staying decidedly characteristic of the band's chamber-post-punk with Bryan Devendorf's linear drumming, bass player Scott Devendorf's pointed basslines and guitarist-brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner's post-classical minimalism intact. There is also a noticeable increase in the roles of strings and brass, although none of those are new elements within the band's usual array of sound.
The album begins with tracks that are most conventionally The National. The architecture of the tracks, like the patiently elevating “Quiet Light” and “Roman Holiday” and the mini-epic of “Oblivions”, are familiar to the band's more recent albums, revolving around melancholy piano parts over complex-yet-efficient drumming patterns. Here, the electronic touches act more to provide ambient nuances than as lead instruments.
Other instruments provide colorful variations of dynamics, decorating verses with minimalist mastery and climaxes with appropriate crescendos. Each song features one or two guest vocalists, but they are still retained in providing harmonies and ambience in these songs, save for former David Bowie bassist Gail Ann Dorsey's commanding voice, which completely forms the jagged abstractions of opener “You Had Your With You” midway through.
By the time “The Pull of You” ends its graceful pulse amidst its emotive refrains, the album undergoes an organic shift.
Indeed, the album's middle collects moments that in previous The National albums were spread out. It is the subtler moments collected in one pool of thought, with a very prominent change in lead vocals.
In “Hey Rosey” Dorsey returns, adding grace through a duet with Berninger, while the title track, which borrows lyrics from legendary US group Guided By Voices, is led by Kate Stables and “So Far So Fast” explodes with hushed mystery through the vocals of Lisa Hannigan and its pulsating instrumentation.
Berninger even takes a complete step back in “Dust Swirls in Strange Light”, “Her Father in The Pool” and the very fittingly entitled “Underwater”, which are fully vocalized by the Brooklyn Youth Chorus.
When Berninger does take center stage again, it comes in the form of the album's most musically progressive moment, “Not In Kansas”, an outpouring of feelings and references that is a confession of sorts, mentioning bands like REM and The Strokes, the actress Annette Benning, the two The Godfather sequels, Christianity in rockets and punching Nazis.
The album does end things by going back into something more familiar.
“Rylan” is a typically strong and immediate The National rocker that's been on their oeuvre for years, but only now makes it onto a record, while closer “Light Years” is a beautiful ballad with very Berninger-ian lyrics and vivid imagery that sparks feelings rather than literal meanings.
I Am Easy To Find continues The National's series of quality albums.
Some fans may feel it is a little too long, or that the choir-led songs could have been left off, but these arguments deter little from the strength of the other tracks, which may not push the band's artistry as much as usual, but succeeds on mood and emotional directness alone.
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