The National: I Am Easy to Find
The National are one of the few indie rock bands that have transitioned to elder statesmen gracefully. If anything they're only getting better with time as the Dessner brothers perfect their instrumentation and songcraft, and after a successful career they now have the resources to experiment with flourishes such as choirs and orchestras (Bryce is a composer). This album is an incredible follow up to Sleep Well Beast - I would argue much better, and Sleep Well Beast was great - and this is all the more remarkable for the fact that it came out only eight months later, which is unheard of in this day and age.
What always baffles me about The National songs is that they're surprisingly simple. Matt Berninger has an incredibly limited baritone range (I'd be surprised if it spanned an octave) and while the Dessners are great at sculpting lush textures and emotions, they're often using simple chords or leisurely guitar melodies in order to do so. I have no doubt they could play more technically proficient music if they wanted to, but they always put the substance of the song above showing their chops. That being said, this is the first National album where the drums have truly stood out to me. There are a lot of interesting rhythms that Bryan Devendorf is playing, and they often bring urgency to tracks that have little going on harmonically.
Two things are worth noting on this album because they go hand in hand. First, the album has a featured female vocalist on almost every track, and second, Matt's wife Carin co-writes almost all of the lyrics. Listening to a National album can sometimes feel like getting an eerily honest look into a dysfunctional marriage, and this never feels more true than on this album. I've always assumed that Matt is the fuck up in the marriage, because we're usually hearing his voice. But the presence of the female voices gives pause as to from what perspective Matt was singing all these years, especially if Carin was writing some of those lyrics. We're also treated to subtle shifts of perspective such as "please think the best of him" followed by "please think the best of me". This is followed by a line stating that "there are police in the museum", and it wouldn't be surprising if it was describing a scene where Matt, who is high-brow and artsy but a notorious lush, gets too drunk in a museum and has to be escorted out.
This really is an album that begs to be listened to from front to back. "So Far So Fast", "I Am Easy to Find", "Here in the Quiet Light", "Hey Rosey", "Where Is Her Head", and "Hairpin Turns" are all highlights, but there isn't a bad track on the album (which is crazy considering there at 16 tracks). I honestly think this is The National's best album, and it comes on the heels of a discography that doesn't have a single dud.