Album Review: “Trouble Will Find Me” – The National

     

    At this point, The National could be considered heavyweights in the alternative genre. The band has released five LPs which have ranged from being worth a good listen (their self-titled album) to sounding so good that hipsters would lynch you for mentioning their name in vain (“High Violet”) — so there is no reason to assume that their latest album, “Trouble Will Find Me” would be anything less than respectable. However, any listeners expecting much more than that might find themselves a little disappointed.

    Fans of The National should be familiar with lead singer Matt Berninger’s melodic, baritone vocals. “Trouble Will Find Me” has strong, compelling singing throughout, and in “Demons,” Berninger takes full advantage of his talents by singing a beautiful, lulling bass melody over dreamily delayed guitars. Considering that 99 percent of singers in the alternative genre have a note range that implies that their testicles never dropped, Berninger’s consistently deep voice is a refreshing change of pace.

    The problem is that apart from the novelty of Berninger’s vocals, everything else regarding the album’s arrangements is average. Apart from a few standouts, like the dark bass-range synth and muted guitar on “Fireproof,” most of the instrumental arrangements — and the sound in general — are uninteresting and won’t hold a listener’s attention. Though “boring” can be a hard characteristic to quantify, a listen to “Graceless” or “This is the Last Time” will show that there isn’t anything special or worthwhile about either song in terms of instruments — both contain bland guitar or piano that convey chords but do nothing interesting or memorable. “Graceless” and “Don’t Swallow the Cup” both have a rock ‘n’ roll feel on the drums, but they lack the kind of energy of, say, an Arcade Fire song. Most of the album faces similar impediments. 

    For those who can get past the uncompelling sound, though the lyrical content can be very rewarding. The album is centered on the ways that Berninger’s old friendships affect him in the present, and although it might be difficult to portray that subject matter, The National pulls it off. “Pink Rabbits” plays into this them e with the chorus, “Am I the one you think about/ When you’re sitting in your fainting chair drinking pink rabbits?” Likewise, other songs, like “Slipped” and “Heavenfaced,” use similarly compelling imagery, and many of the songs have found the vital balance of leaving some things open to interpretation while not being frustratingly metaphorical. The lyrical quality is barely enough to balance out the album’s “meh” sound, and the result is a compilation that’s more well-written than it is enjoyable. (6/10)

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