'I Am Easy To Find' is the project The National have spent their entire career striving to curate. The electronic experiment of 'Sleep Well Beast' has been continued as the Ohio-born, Brooklyn-raised brooding quintet explore new textures and venture further into the art of alternative-rock.
The 16-track, hour-long record is accompanied with a Mike Mills film. As emphasised by the creators, the former is not the soundtrack for the latter, the latter is not a video for the former but of course, there’s a link. The film sees several tracks reconstructed by Mills. He’s re-designed the jigsaw, making a different picture with the same piece. An emotional, detailed story follows the life of a girl through love, loss, death and trauma, expertly encapsulating the main themes from The National’s eighth long-play: anxiety, the unknown, loneliness, sex, death and losing. But despite these rather negative themes, there is a sense of positivity across the album.
From the artwork, you can infer this is The National’s brightest record yet. It’s optimistic, explorative, there’s a naïve hopefulness that encapsulates the youthfulness of childhood. These are compliments you would never usually associate with the gloomy math-rockers, who often opt for misery and darkness. The stuttering, staggering, jaunty guitar lines and tentative beats appear as remnants of unused 'Sleep Well Beast' tracks but with added strings, courtesy of the Dessner twins, the layers and textures venture deeper than ever before and offer an air of euphoria.
Multiple female vocalists appear across the record, which make it seem like a collaborative project at times. However, the appearances from long-time friends of the band, including Gail Ann Dorsey, Sharon van Etten and Kate Stables, see Berninger’s lyrics in a new light. Meanwhile the appearances of the Brooklyn Youth Chorus create ethereal, haunting moments. These collaborations demonstrate The National’s desire to continuously evolve, adapt and create something fresh. You could never accuse them of being static or basking in past glories. They are always looking for that next thing that will take them in a new direction and on this record, the use of other vocals sees them do exactly that.
But Berninger remains the focal point, as expected, as he usually does. You see a more tender, open side to him. He’s more accepting of his faults and even celebrates them. It’s a sign of maturity on his part. In the past, he has resented his weaknesses, blaming his often-volatile personality for his losses. This time, there’s no such blame attached, which only adds to the optimism of the album. He too has dug deeper into his musical abilities, specifically on ‘The Pull Of You’, where he offers his best Nick Cave impression whilst admitting he’s fallen to the bottom of the pit.
Stand-out moments come when Berninger turns his attention outwards, however. He pays homage to his heroes, with Patti Smith, Nina Simone and R.E.M receiving shout outs across the record whilst the reinvented, re-calibrated, reformed ‘Rylan’ appears as a positive pop song based around mischievous young boy.
In stark contrast, ‘Not In Kansas’ paints a dark reality of the U.S. as Berninger expresses disillusionment with current U.S. politics, concern for children being held at the border and the emerging fascist agenda in America, slurring in the chorus “where I am, I don’t know where” demonstrating his current disenchantment. It’s six minutes and forty five seconds of poignant, poetic social commentary.
A bunch of moody, artsy Brooklyn boys who have always strived to do something different, 'I Am Easy To Find' sees destiny become reality. With new voices, new avenues of exploration and new lyrical viewpoints, The National, alongside producer-director Mike Mills, once again show their ability to reinvent themselves to produce something that is more than just an album.
Words: Johnny Rogerson
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