Trouble Will Find Me, the sixth full-length album from Brooklyn-based quintet the National, does not disappoint. Strikingly, they have managed to come out with a new sound that is still recognisable as the National, with the iconic baritone of Matt Berninger, his introspective lyrics, and the mid-paced groove of their music still apparent. Yet they have neither repeated themselves, nor simply recycled a formula that has worked in the past. With the opening ‘I Should Live in Salt,’ the tone is set for the next fifty or so minutes. You’re taken in to a private world of brooding melancholy and introspection, and if you’re already a fan of this band, then it is a world that you will be intimately acquainted with already. It’s unobtrusive and it’s sincere. With songs like ‘Fireproof’ and ‘Graceless’ exploring past regrets and lost relationships, but countered by the driving ‘Sea of Love’ and ‘This is the Last Time,’ the album feels like a chapter from a life story. The line-up of guest musicians is also impressive, with St. Vincent, Sufjan Stevens, Sharon van Etten and Richard Parry (Arcade Fire) all making appearances.
The recording of the album had some rocky patches, with the process delayed first by a tornado and then by Hurricane Sandy. According to a release by band member Aaron Dessner, during the blackout caused by the tornado, “by candlelight in the total darkness, we got really drunk and played the songs acoustically. It was the kind of scene that has never happened in the history of our band — and will never happen again.” This inspired the band, and after relocating they recorded ‘Fireproof’, ‘Sea of Love’ and ‘Heavenfaced’ as one-take live performances. This adds to the feeling of sincerity and intimacy that flows through the album. This isn’t an record that has the stadium-filling sound of High Violet or Boxer.
Again according to Dessner, the dialogue in the recording studio was constructive and positive, where before the band had argued throughout the sessions. This positive dialogue seems to have had an effect on the album, for while it remains heavy, it also feels confident and welcoming. The entire album seems to have been made with a real positive drive. As Dessner, inspired by the recent birth of his daughter, began writing the music, Berninger reacted to this in his own intuitive way, and the chemistry between them has generated some fascinating songs. “In the past,” says Bessner, “it’s been hard to enjoy writing – like getting drops of blood from your forehead – but I loved the process for this record. I think a lot of it was because I wasn’t worried – I didn’t care what the songs were going to be about, or if they were going to seem depressing, or cool, or whatever.”
Six albums down the line, the National haven’t lost any of their drive. Their confidence and positive attitude, coupled with the grassroots inspiration of the recording process, has created a different atmosphere for this record. They’ve kept their brooding and heavy sound, but instead of bringing you down, it’s life-affirming. With sincere lyrics and genuinely grooving melodies, the indie quintet have delivered another gem – just in time for those exam blues.