The National is in the middle of a hot streak. Don’t get me wrong, all of their albums are worth a listen if you enjoy contemporary alternative rock (or whatever they call it these days), but their three album run of Alligator, Boxer, and High Violet have been some of the best albums released in their respective years. So when I realized that The National’s new album, Trouble Will Find Me, was nearing its release date I wasn’t exactly hyped or ecstatic. After all, music from their past records is still just as good years later as it was when I first heard it – additionally, I felt confident that the band would put out another great record. I was never worried that The National would put out a bad album or even a mediocre one.
Everything that made Boxer and High Violet great are back: the atmospheric swells, Berninger’s mournful croon, the nearly rhythmic and propulsive percussion, the melancholy and personal lyrics. By and large, if you’ve enjoyed the past work of The National, you’re sure to enjoy Trouble Will Find Me. The album is a slow burner – perhaps even slower than High Violet. It’s not inaccessible by any means, but many of the songs’ twists and turns, many of the lyrics’ confessional turns of phrase, become more salient with repeated listens. The band’s music is meticulously constructed, with every melody, rhythm, and tone seemingly not only exactly where it should be, but where it has to be as if there were no other option.
The album begins with “I Should Live in Salt” bears more than a striking resemblance to High Violent’s opener “Terrible Love.” The song begins in skeletal form: an acoustic guitar, Berninger’s voice, and a few slight synthesizers. The phrase “you should know me better than that” is repeated throughout the verse (much like the title phrase of “Terrible Love”), and the song slowly builds to what feels like an anthem. “Sea of Love” – the band’s first video in support of Trouble Will Find Me – starts with rapid snare taps that make the song feel on the verge of an enormous crescendo. “Sea of Love” follows a few different changes of tempo and sound, and it contains the album’s namesake lyric – it’s sure to be one of the album’s most prominent tracks.
My only real complaint with Trouble Will Find Me is that the band doesn’t really expand its musical palette from previous records. Tonally, it sounds a lot like High Violet, and most of these songs would have fit perfectly in place with that record. Maybe it’s for this reason why I wasn’t hyper-ecstatic about the album’s release – it feels too comfortable. It feels like a warm sweater that I’ve worn for years now. I don’t mean to suggest that the band needs to run out and experiment with electronica, but the band’s sound is by now very familiar.
Fans of The National owe it to themselves to check out Trouble Will Find Me. It’s a great album that only further extends this band’s fantastic catalog. If you’ve never listened to The National before, this record is a good one to start with, but I might recommend Boxer over it for beginners. I’d recommend this band to fans of Arcade Fire, Grizzly Bear, or Iron & Wine – while The National don’t sound exactly like these bands all the time, they share many sensibilities of songwriting. Listeners who have never been convinced of The National’s merit probably won’t find reason to change their minds here – Trouble Will Find Me is made of the same exact ingredients that endeared them to so many people in the past. Trouble Will Find Me is a great record sure to be on many Best Of 2013 lists.
Essential tracks to sample/download: “I Should Live in Salt,” “Sea of Love,” and “Don’t Swallow the Cap.”