The National - Trouble Will Find Me | Album Review | By Volume

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The National

Trouble Will Find Me

A liberated, weightless record which is both vintage National and something more gorgeous entirely.

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Author: on May 17, 2013
9.0
4AD
May 20, 2013

There is a moment almost two minutes into Trouble Will Find Me’s opening shard when the weight of the world lifts off Matt Berninger’s shoulders. “I Should Live In Salt” writhes inside a cyclic, tight melody for those first barbs, resisting its own gravitational pull at every turn. The upwards shift that opens it up is an innocuous but defining moment in the National’s arc of self. What defines the National has always sat just outside the perimeter of their sound, umbilically connected to Berninger’s lyrical fire exits, blocked by his own stubbornness and raging with his own temper.

Which is why, when “Fireproof”’s finger-picking swirls upwards in hopeless optimism, there’s a different lilt to everything about this captivating band. Though the temptation to draw lines of best fit is rife, “Fireproof” really is remarkably different to other National slow-burners – its rat-a-tat drums and swells belie a very different band to the one that made “Looking for Astronauts”, and its direct statements rally a different part of the brain to “Mr.November” – but this is not the breaking of a once-sombre band. It’s the swelling of that same dynamic, which finds openness as a new angle rather than a direct contradiction.

And so it is that “Sea of Love” feels completely liberated, free to roam in very standard rhythms just in order to explore all of its melodic beauty. If we look back at Alligator, we see a record which breathed off its own tension, and the release that it eventually provided. On Trouble Will Find Me, there is the room for more gradual bloodletting because of the space, and the resulting scene is both gorgeous and, in a serene way, messy. The narrative of Trouble is not as easily invented as Boxer’s or High Violet’s; here, there is more inherent beauty than swirling intensity, though the two still grapple with frequent aggression; just hear the close of “This Is The Last Time”, wherein Sharon Van Etten wonders that “it takes a lot of love”, poignantly, simply, cuttingly. Just hear Berninger grit his teeth through “When I walk into a room, I do not light it up,” only to tear himself into with a scream: “Fuck!”

And there’s a lot of love on Trouble Will Find Me. Find the sharpest edge of stand-out “Graceless” – the heartstopping moment where Berninger’s repeated “There’s a science to walking through windows” gains “without you” – and you’ve found the equivalent of “Slow Show”’s 29-year declaration, only after the fact – it’s beautiful to see the National at such ease, portraying these emotions with the same capacity to trip us up. Particularly joined with the off-kilter time signature of tracks like the opener, this liberation is scarring; it accentuates the calmer, more stripped-back moments and propels the climax. The National have always been a band built around the restraint and the explosion, embracing those two beams in the same moment at times, but here the two seem more distinct and yet, equally, more a part of the same band.

Whatever we can say about a record whose character is gorgeously shattered, we have to acknowledge the sheer heart that beats in “Pink Rabbits”, a song which trembles hooks and piercing lyricism at every juncture. In that track’s third quarter, there is a string of incredible melodies that simply beggar belief. It’s one of those musical instants which forces a smile just from its brilliance and then holds it from the resonance. “I’m so surprised you wanna dance with me now; you always said I held you way too high off the ground,” Berninger reminisces, before sliding straight into the collapse that is “I was a television version of a person with a broken heart.”

And, closed by the bare, faintly misty-eyed “Hard To Find”, the record finds a similar resolution to many National albums, but with an added conviction in its optimism. “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” was resigned; “Mr. November” was breathless and desperate; “Gospel” was comfortable. “Hard To Find” is all of these things without breaking a sweat. In the build-up to this record’s release, the band made clear that they felt their music had reached a point where it could be left to fend for itself, organic and dynamic. As a band that has proven time and again that they can superbly convey the insecurity and the intricacy of a maturing mind, The National finally learn to let go of their trappings on Trouble Will Find Me, and sound weightless for it.

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