Album Review: The National's 'I Am Easy To Find'
In a vulnerable yet volatile album, the National are back with their eighth LP.
Released less than two years after the acclaimed Sleep Well Beast, the art-rock band use I Am Easy to Find to venture out into new and unexplored territory. Opening with an uncharacteristically jarring electro beat, this is not the National at their norm. Yet the melancholic beauty and soaring instrumentalism so typical of their other work still permeates the hour long album.
Perhaps the most striking thing about IAETF is the host of female vocalists – including Gail Ann Dorsey, Sharon Van Etten, Kate Stables, Lisa Hannigan, and Mina Tindle – singing alongside and against Matt Berninger in all 16 of the album’s tracks. Mina challenges Matt in the intensely romantic Oblivions, creating a dialogue between two lovers. Bringing in the other half offers the dual perspective and shows a complex emotional maturity, something the band – so used to writing about relationships – was yet to do. Kate softly echoes Matt in the titular track, which reinforces the idea expounded in the lyrics of losing oneself in another, and of losing one’s identity in something familiar. This theme of growth and being at odds with one’s identity and independence is prominent throughout the album, with songs like So Far So Fast and fan-favourite Rylan positing lyrics like: ‘Don’t you know someday somebody will come find you / If you don’t know who you are anymore, they will remind you’ and ‘Underwater you’re almost free / If you wanna be alone, come with me’. IAETF places particular emphasis on the self and how it fits into long-term relationships with an almost aching existentialism.
“This theme of growth and being at odds with one’s identity and independence is prominent throughout the album”
The National have never shied away from the intense: the disconnect between day-to-day life and inner turmoil is explored through all their albums, epitomised here in Quiet Light’s line ‘ I’m not that spiritual, I still go out all the time / To department stores’. The nearly seven-minute long Not in Kansas is perhaps the centrepiece. Stripped back instrumentalism gives way to Matt’s voice, which is beautiful as ever, albeit a little indulgent. But what are the National if not indulgent? Every piece is well-produced, but it is the ones that are paired back and simple, like Quiet Light and Hey Rosey, which are the most striking. The more experimental numbers, like the opening track and Dust Swirls in Strange Light seem at odds with the otherwise flowing album. Equally, some of the more modest pieces – Roman Holiday, for example – pass over you with little effect; and yet put together, it allows for an album with enough edge to remain interesting and with enough similarity to remain cohesive. The National have succeeded in another brooding, moody album, but with a refreshing twist found in the almost ethereal female vocals. Exploring new territory was a necessity after seven albums and it has paid off, giving us a heart-breaking yet hopeful listening experience.