The National have made a brave move. Letting go of the creative reins for their eighth album, they handed over creative control to film director Mike Mills after he initially approached them about making a film together, being invited to produce the new album was an unexpected turn of events. After all, why meddle with the creative process you’ve had for ten years after it has seen the band grow steadily, culminating in 2017’s Grammy Award winning ‘Sleep Well Beast’? However when you delve a bit deeper into the band’s creative machinery, collaboration has always been at the core of The National, with an open door approach to their artistic endeavours –  five members at the heart of it all but with creative input along the way from many, including frontman Matt Berninger’s wife, Carin Besser who co-writes the lyrics, and on this one, a whole host of associates – Gail Ann Dorsey, Bowie’s bass player and collaborator for many years, Sharon Van Etten, Kate Stables usually known as This Is The Kit, Brooklyn Youth Chorus and more.

There’s a lush depth to Berninger’s vocals which helps to drive the melodies, with the tales of heartbreak and lovelorn, lost characters, all present and correct, yet it’s also brimming with optimism, and a sense that not all is lost.  The National have always managed to generate simmering undercurrents of emotion in each song, before Berninger’s vocals erupt into wild abandon. This time, the emotional depth is there but delivered at a more sedate pace. As the band recently stated, they were known for being the band that makes songs which build up to a big ‘ta-da’ and then go away, this time around many of the songs never break out of a slow jogging pace, without the feisty anger or explosive emotional vocal deliveries, and yet there’s a delicate beauty to the whole album.

‘You Had Your Soul With You’ finds Gail Ann Dorsey taking over lead vocal melodies halfway through, her gentle tones adding a soothing calmness amongst the flittering guitar bursts. Title track ‘I Am Easy To Find’ has a slow paced grandeur to it and even borrows a couple of lines “Towers to the skies, An academy of lies” from classic Guided By Voices song ‘Echoes Myron’, and a nod to the great GBV is always welcome. The pace picks up again for ‘Where Is Her Head’ with its shuffling rhythms, and the combined vocals of Berninger and Eve Owen singing “I hate loving you as much as I do, I think I’m running away, The dark storm you bring, I can’t take another day”. ‘Hairpin Turns’ has Berninger’s subtle vocal tones over relaxing piano chords with Gail Ann Dorsey and Lisa Hannigan joining in the vocal melodies, whereas Rylan, featuring Kate Stables, has a more upbeat approach “Rylan you should try and get some sun, there’s a little bit of hell in everyone” over a stomping backbone of drums, pianos, guitars, and strings.

The album was recorded mostly at mutli-instrumentalist and producer Aaron Dessner’s Long Pond studio in NY with other bits recorded in Paris, Berlin, Cincinnati and Dublin, which might sound like a disjointed approach yet it flows seamlessly.

The National’s appeal lies in their ability to craft songs dealing with a whole range of human emotions, which are not destined for the indie disco dancefloor, neither delving into the maudlin ballad territory either. They manage to exist in their own world. The National have made a brave move, but it’s one that has propelled their sound into new directions, and one which makes ‘I Am Easy To Find’ a delicately twisted musical triumph.

The National – I Am Easy To Find: Out Now (4AD Records)



From the early days of creating handmade zines, in a DIY paper and glue style, interviewing bands around town, then pestering Piccadilly Records to sell them, to writing for various independent mags such as Chimp and Ablaze, writing about the music I love is still a great passion. After testing the music industry waters in London with stints at various labels, being back in my hometown again, writing about this city’s vibrant music scene is as exciting as ever. All time favourite bands include Sonic Youth, Nick Cave, Patti Smith although anything from electro to folk via blues and pysch rock will also do nicely too. A great album, is simply a great album, regardless of whatever musical cage you put it in.