The National - I Am Easy to Find - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

The National - I Am Easy to Find

by Tim Sentz Rating:8 Release Date:2019-05-17
The National - I Am Easy to Find
The National - I Am Easy to Find

The state of indie rock is in a dire need of a reinvention. Starting with the humble beginnings of iconic acts like R.E.M. and the Replacements, continuing through the 90s with Pavement and Built to Spill, indie rock has once again hit a snag in 2019. Bands like The Strokes and Interpol have released essentially the same album multiple times, with little or strange attempts at diversifying their sound. The late-2000s class – like Vampire Weekend and Wolf Parade – have delivered admirable, if not a bit discouraging returns in the last few years. Still talented, still exciting live, but the new material seems less than their previous work.

Ohio’s The National definitely got the memo that indie rock has gotten stale. With their eighth studio album in a career spanning two decades, The National return only two years removed from Sleep Well Beast. The excitement surrounding Sleep Well Beast was intense, as the first single “The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness” was a crunchy, powerful rock song – but the album didn’t deliver much in that vein upon release; and with I Am Not Hard To Find, the National pull the wool over heads again. Instead of an hour of Matt Berninger suggestively crooning his way into all of our hearts with his despair-filled, middle-aged Dad-rock – The National change things up considerably and offer up an interesting departure.

Sleep Well Beast engaged us all with a new electronic detour in areas, but for the most part, it was a continuation of Trouble Will Find Me’s odes to heartbreak. I Am Easy to Find starts out similarly, with the sample intro of “You Had Your Soul With You,” a fun track that while changing things up a tiny bit, is still inherently a National song at its core. After that, it’s standard National fare for the most part. “Quiet Light” is everything we’ve come to appreciate about the National: Berninger’s sweeping vocals, backdropped by the instrumentation from the Dessners.

What separates I Am Not Hard to Find though is how it brings in additional artists to take the concrete sound of the band to new heights. And while not ever collaboration hits the nail on the head, it's about time the National expand their sound in different directions. This doubles as a plus and negative, as I Am Not Hard to Find starts to suffer when how little of Berninger you get. The emphasis on the additional female vocals from Sharon Van Etten and Lisa Hannigan (“The Pull of You”) or even the Brooklyn Youth Chorus contributing to three songs (“Underwater,” “Dust Swirls in Strange Light”, “Her Father in the Pool”). It makes I Am Not Hard to Find feel overstuffed, brimming with texture and grandness, but still guest-heavy that forces to the loss of identity from the National.

Dedicated fans will find plenty to love still. Fan favorites like “Rylan” finally find a home, and it’s a fantastic track live and manages to translate well. “Light Years” was a crowd pleaser on tour last year and it also finds a comfortable slot as the loser for I Am Not Hard to Find. Probably the most interesting track and the most talked/debated about is “Not In Kansas,” one of two six-minute-plus cuts that go above and beyond what you’d expect from The National. “Not in Kansas” unfurls over its longer-than-usual runtime and finds Berninger referencing everything from the Strokes, The Godfather, and humorously Annette Benning. It’s one of the more unique songs by the National because it deters from the pattern so much. This is less an album by Berninger, but highlights the Dessner’s more, specifically Bryce Dessner who’s guitar ranges from thoughtful to downright morbid at times.

I Am Easy to Find’s the longest album by the National, and while there are some moments that don’t quite work – the choir moments feel out of place and too melodramatic – the overall feeling is still positive. It’s an album that will take much meditation from fans and non-fans, and it acts as hopefully a transitional album for the National. As the decade winds down, many of the indie rock titans we’ve adored since 2005 will need to buckle down. With I Am Easy to Find, the National take that step.

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