You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Album Review: The National’s ‘I Am Easy to Find’

Over the course of seven albums and a career that’s lasted twenty years, the National have accrued their fair share of trademark habits.

For one, there’s the unmistakable moodiness of the band’s songs—brooding tales of suburban anxieties and the tender nature of love. There’s also the meticulous musicianship each member contributes, together creating a sonic atmosphere rich with crisp percussion, forlorn piano melodies, and deconstructed guitar lines. Yet, despite the invaluable contributions of twins Aaron and Bryce Dessner and brothers Scott and Bryan Devendorf, it is the voice of singer Matt Berninger that most singularly reflects the National’s sound.

With a graveled baritone that adds weight to every word, Berninger has always served as the glue that binds the National’s sound. However, on the National’s latest record, it takes less than three minutes before the somewhat expected sound of opener “You Had Your Soul with You” reveals a surprise: When the voice of Gail Ann Dorsey—a longtime member of David Bowie’s band—enters midway through the track, what for seven albums has been an inner monologue suddenly blossoms into a conversation. Spotlighted in songs more complex than duets yet just as intimate, the presence of powerful women throughout “I Am Easy to Find” becomes its core identity. Throughout the album, appearances from Mina Tindle, Lisa Hannigan, Sharon Van Etten, Kate Stables, Eve Owen, and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus serve not as cameos, but as the record’s emotional and spiritual anchor.

As the story goes, back in 2017, the band was still fully focused on the release of their last album, “Sleep Well Beast,” when they received an email from director Mike Mills (Beginners,” “20th Century Women”). He wanted to collaborate, so the National sent him a batch of songs that had not made the cut for “Beast” and told him to go wild.  The result is two things that share a name but are best considered as companion projects. “I Am Easy to Find” is thus both a 26-minute short film directed by Mills and starring Alicia Vikander, as well as the National’s boldest album to date.

In interviews discussing the releases, members of the National have suggested that the two projects developed in parallel, with Mills’ film influencing the album’s music and vice-versa. This is arguably most apparent in the inclusion of three interlude, most instrumental tracks on the record: “Her Father in the Pool,” “Dust Swirls in Strange Light,” and “Underwater.”

Perhaps more important though is the subject of the short film, which follows the life of an unnamed woman (Vikander) from birth to death. Although Berninger’s wife, former New Yorker editor Carin Besser, has contributed to the group as songwriter dating back to 2007’s “Boxer,” her contributions arguably never have been more vital than they are here. That’s because on “I Am Easy to Find,” the focal point has widened: No longer does the music orbit around Berninger—instead he is debated, echoed, overtaken and comforted by strong performances from Van Etten, Owen and more.

On the downbeat title track, Berninger and Kate Stables (This is the Kit) harmonize with ghostly beauty as they proclaim, “I’m still waiting for you every night with ticker tape.” Towards the end of the record, the slow, shimmering “So Far So Fast” dispenses with the pretext of Berninger entirely, instead opening with the voice of Irish singer Lisa Hannigan. It isn’t until the song’s bridge that the National’s frontman reappears, seemingly right at home as the backing vocal in someone else’s story.

The inclusion of female singers throughout “I Am Easy to Find” presents an interesting crossroads for a band whose reputation is somewhat based on its consistency. Having survived the great culling of early 2000s rock acts, Berninger and company began to tweak their formula with the subtle pop undertones of 2013’s “Trouble Will Find Me” and the electronic tributaries that flow through “Sleep Well Beast.” Now, less than two years removed from the latter, they’ve broken with tradition entirely.

But lest anyone worry, this is still a proper National album.

Poetic and enigmatic lyrics? Check. On “The Pull of You,” Berninger is in top form when he unconvincingly suggests, “Maybe we’ll end up the ones eating chocolate chip pancakes / Next to a charity swimming pool.” Achingly beautiful ballads? Check. The record’s final cut, “Light Years” employs a gorgeous, methodic piano line to underscore a meditation on the fragility of connection and the hopelessness of distance.  Exacting production craft? Naturally. It’s easy to spot the influence of the Dessner twins across the album, from the flourish of strings on “The Pull of You” to the interplay of vocals on “Oblivions.”

“I Am Easy to Find” may be a gamble—its lengthy runtime, forays into the abstract, and diversity of voices probably eliminate it as an ideal entry point into the band for new listeners—but it’s a calculated one. By allowing their diligently designed blueprint to take a new, unexpected form, the National haven’t ceded the spotlight, only broadened it.

Album Review: The National’s ‘I Am Easy to Find’

More Music

  • Taylor SwiftMTV Video Music Awards, Arrivals,

    Vivendi's Third Quarter Results Up Nearly 17%, UMG Still Rising

    Vivendi saw its third quarter revenues increase by 16.7% to €3.97 billion ($4.4 billion) compared with the third quarter of 2018, once again boosted by the growth of Universal Music Group, while Canal Plus Group remained stable. For the first nine months of 2019, Vivendi’s revenues reached €11.3 billion ($12.5 billion), an increase of 14.6% [...]

  • Parliament-Funkadelic and George ClintonIEBA Annual Conference,

    George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, Sheila E. to Perform in ‘Grammy Salute’ Airing Friday

    Parliament-Funkadelic stars George Clinton and Bootsy Collins, along with Sheila E. and many others, perform in the “Grammy Salute to Music Legends” airing as part of PBS’ “Great Performances” series Friday night. The show, the fourth annual all-star concert offering a primetime spotlight for the Academy’s 2019 Special Merit Awards recipients, premieres nationwide Friday, Oct. [...]

  • Lola Marsh

    Ping Pong Sets the Beat in Hypnotic, Green Screen-Ambitious Lola Marsh Video (Watch)

    Forrest Gump has nothing on Lola Marsh. The Tel Aviv-based twosome of vocalist Yael Shoshana Cohen and multi-instrumentalist Gil Landau transform into ping pong rivals in the video for “Only for a Moment.” The indie-pop jam combines Cohen’s Lana Del Rey-esque vocals over an upbeat blend of snaps, claps, shakers, and a driving melody courtesy [...]

  • Tekashi 6ix9ine Docuseries Coming From Showtime

    Tekashi 6ix9ine Docuseries Coming From Showtime and Rolling Stone

    Showtime Documentary Films today announced a new limited docuseries profiling controversial rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine. Titled “SuperVillain” and inspired by the Rolling Stone feature written by Stephen Witt, the three-part series will trace how a New York City deli clerk named Daniel Hernandez became superstar rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine — who racked up 2.6 billion streams and [...]

  • Fader Label Logo

    Fader Label Signs Two New Acts, Boosts Staff

    The Fader Label, home to Clairo, Matt and Kim and others, announced two new signings today along with three new hires on its staff. Charlie Burg and Zachary Knowles have joined the label’s talent roster, while Carson Oberg has come aboard as general manager, Yasmine Panah as project manager and Josh Hymowitz as label coordinator. They [...]

  • Kane Brown CMT Artists of the

    Kane Brown Pays Tribute to Late Drummer Kenny Dixon in Tearful 'CMT Artists' Speech

    Country star Kane Brown, unabashedly distraught over the death of his touring drummer Kenny Dixon just four days earlier in a car accident, dedicated his “CMT Artists of the Year” award to Dixon in a heart-rending appearance on the telecast Wednesday night. Brown ceded the performance slot he would have been allowed to friend Chris [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content