- 14 May 19
US indie stars deliver a stunning effort with their new album I Am Easy To Find, which is set for release on May 17.
The National had planned to take time off after the relentless album-tour-album schedule of the past few years, with each tour getting progressively longer as their audience grew.
Plans for a break were put on hold, however, after LA-based filmmaker Mike Mills (not the REM bassist) got in touch and proposed working with the band. The results are a 24-minute film starring Alicia Vikander, and also this 16-track, 68-minute album, wherein the Ohio quintet are joined by a host of female vocalists.
“It would have been better to have had other male singers,” says singer Matt Berninger, “but my ego wouldn’t let that happen.”
Opener ‘You Had Your Soul With You’ comes complete with a twiddly guitar coda and giddy rhythm reminiscent of 2017’s Sleep Well Beast. As a signpost to the rest of the album, it’s a bit of a wrong turn, however, as most of I Am Easy To Find is decidedly sombre.
David Bowie’s former bassist Gail Ann Dorsey showcases the quality of her voice throughout the record, and not just on that frenetic opener. She also adds her soulful tones to the string-drenched ‘Hey Rosey’ and the melancholy ‘Roman Holiday’, the latter a love letter to art, namechecking Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe.
‘Hairpin Turns’ is a perfectly painted vignette of a moment in a relationship, which begins life as a straight duet with Dorsey, before Lisa Hannigan’s unmistakeable voice cuts through the ether. Hannigan’s instantly recognisable tones also add real beauty and depth to the atmospheric slow burn of ‘So Far So Fast’, and ‘The Pull of You’ – the latter a gorgeous love song, interspersed with weird spoken-word poetry, which also features Sharon Van Etten. It’s art, Jim, but not as we know it…
Elsewhere, ‘Quiet Light’ does that thing The National have made their own, combining a plaintive love song with edgy, offbeat rhythms. It’s a blueprint that also works on ‘Oblivions’, which juxtaposes a delicate piano ballad with a four/four beat, as Berninger trades lyrics with French chanteuse Mina Tindle, her voice a perfect counterfoil to his bruised baritone.
‘Where Is Her Head’ features Eve Owen, the daughter of actor Clive Owen (a huge fan of the band). The frenetic percussion contrasts with a gospel-esque lyric of disaffection, while the martial tattoo of ‘Rylan’ is probably the most quintessentially National song here, and wouldn’t feel out of place on Alligator.
The haunting title track features a beautiful vocal from the extremely under-rated Kate Stables, better known as This Is The Kit, sounding like a modern-day Kirsty McColl alongside Berninger’s Cohen. “You never were much of a New Yorker/ It wasn’t in your eyes,” they sing, while Berninger quotes from Guided By Voices’ 1994 classic, ‘Echos Myron’.
Their fellow Ohio-ians are not the only other artists referred to. Elsewhere, Berninger acknowledges finding solace in REM’s incredible Life’s Rich Pageant throughout the glorious ‘Not In Kansas’. This is amongst the finest things the band have ever recorded, a seven-minute effort referencing everything from German conceptual artists to Annette Bening, intercut with a weird but beautiful lullaby from Dorsey, Hannigan and Stables.
It’s the closest the normally oblique Berninger gets to being political, as he sings, “Ohio’s in a downward spiral/ Can’t go back there anymore/ Since alt-right opium went viral.”
More difficult to love than most of the band’s recent records, I Am Easy To Find nonetheless rewards repeat and listening. It took this reviewer upwards of a dozen plays before it finally worked its subtle charms, but trust me, it’s worth the investment.
I Am Easy To Find is out May 17.