Album of the Week: The National, 'I Am Easy to Find'

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The National, 'I Am Easy To Find'
The National, 'I Am Easy To Find' (4AD)
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This was not the album I was expecting from The National.

In the past week I've spent a lot of time thinking about women's voices and feeling powerless in a narrative where male voices dominate. A theme in 2019 seems to be woman asking for men to talk less and listen more, and it appears that the men in The National have taken note. In nearly half of the 16 songs on I Am Easy To Find, singer Matt Berninger's voice takes the back seat, making space for a variety of woman's voices to take the lead. Lyrically moving, eschewing traditional songwriting structure for a more stream of consciousness style, the album is asking you to try and see what's right in front of you.

There may not be many, if any, "radio hits" on I Am Easy To Find, but that doesn't seem to be what the band is after. This is a meditative album, full of negative space and several songs that have no words, just swelling female harmonies. There is a propulsive momentum that brings some Springsteen flavor to several songs (and drummer Bryan Devendorf has never sounded more on point), but the sensations are wild and natural, like each song is a wave crashing against the shore. A visual component was added to the project about halfway thru and there is a cinematic soundtrack feel to the album, with repeated words and phrases bringing everything together (including multiple songs referencing the album's title).

The focus on female voices (and songwriting, once again Carin Besser [Berninger's wife] gets co-writing credit on several songs) creates a world punctuated by Berninger's deep baritone, like underlining main points. Credit where credit is due, this is an amazing features lineup: Sharon Van Etten, Kate Stables (aka The Is the Kit), Gail Ann Dorsey (who's name you might not recognized, but you may recognize her voice from her work with David Bowie), Mina Tindle (aka Pauline de Lassus Saint-Genies [Bryce Dessner's wife]), Eve Owen, and longtime collaborator Lisa Hannigan.

Things have been stewing for a while on some of these tracks and songs from various eras of The National finally find a home in I Am Easy To Find. "So Far, So Fast" was originally recorded for 2017's Sleep Well Beast and "Rylan" has been bouncing around since 2010 (and was supposed to be on 2013's Trouble Will Find Me). The songs all work together and the almost Greek tragedy chorus of woman's voices pull and push the wavering Berninger.

A highlight for me happens just over half-way thru the album with "Where is Her Head," a swirl of manic beauty. Think back to when you were broken up with, or broke up with someone, or left them in a holding pattern - that wild non-stop circle of thoughts that pace around your mind, "Where is her head? / Is she outside? / Is she looking out? / Is she standing up?" It's jittery-cigarette-clenching-pacing-the-sidewalk music to lose yourself in. There isn't really a verse or a chorus or a bridge, but it makes you feel something. And these days, I'm ok throwing out the formula and trying to just hear something true.

The National headline Rock the Garden on June 29, 2019. Tickets and details available at rockthegardenfestival.com.

Resources


The National - Official Site

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