The National: I Am Easy to Find review – A bold ambitious collision of the past, present

Fri, May 17, 2019, 15:09

   
 

Album:
I Am Easy to Find

Artist:
The National

Label:
4AD

Genre:
Rock

At just under 70 minutes, The National’s eighth studio record is their longest yet, revealing a grand ambition. Co-produced by Mike Mills, who has directed an accompanying film featuring Alicia Vikander, the record is marked by a cinematic quality, and a rich cast of co-conspirators.

The album and film, are, as Mills describes it, “playfully hostile siblings that love to steal from each other”, an approach that works well. The record is pure, pleasing disruption, with the band smashing through previous patterns.

The album is not a soundtrack to the film, but exists in a universe that uses cinema as a reference. Whether it is riffing on William Wyler’s Roman Holiday, “put me in your movie, pin me to your wall”, or how it plays with the themes of shadows and light (three songs feature “light” in their titles), the dark recesses of the soul are leavened with a sense that the sun must always rise. The National have always walked this tightrope, positing that the very act of getting through the day can sometimes be the achievement.

Redistribution

I Am Easy to Find is The National’s reckoning – interrogating and taking apart what brought them together in the first place. A redistribution is taking place. Matt Berninger’s vocal sometimes steps aside to accommodate the female voice as in You Had Your Soul With You, where David Bowie-collaborator Gail Ann Dorsey steps into the light amid the skittering drums and air of tension. It is unexpected, and powerful.

Lisa Hannigan provides a moving narrative on So Far So Fast and The Pull of You, aided by Sharon Van Etten with her effective spoken word “if I said I was sorry for always being underwater, would you stay?”. Kate Stables elegantly amplifies her performance on I Am Easy to Find, and Mina Tindle floors on Oblivions, one of the record’s highlights, with drums and choral arrangements suggesting the insidious march of time and the attendant fear.

It folds in the anxiety at the heart of the record “I know I am easy to find but you know it’s never me”, bringing us back to Slipped from 2013’s Trouble Will Find Me, “I’ll never be, anything you ever want me to be”. The National constantly echo their past work, redefining their position.

This shapeshifting record roots around the DNA of The National, acknowledging that to live is to exist in anxiety, but they give us a myriad of ways to lose ourselves, if only for a moment, bringing to mind this sentiment of Laurie Lee, “Born we are mortal, dehydrated, ordinary; love is the oil that plumps us up, dilates the eyes, puts a glow on the skin, lifts us free from the weight of time”. The National are all love.

There are choral arrangements and strings on nearly every track – Bryce Dessner’s orchestration elevates (Brooklyn Youth Chorus are a beautiful addition on Dust Swirls in Strange Light, Her Father in the Pool, and Underwater) and Bryan Devendorf’s drums provide another narrative drive that pulls together disparate strands on Where Is Her Head, which is all driving intensity, and Hairpin Turns, with its moody, sensual beat.

By the time we get to album closer Light Years, The National have given us soundtracks to many days lived, and yet to be lived; an intimacy set within grand ambition, the piano melody emerging like the still after the storm, with Berninger’s world-weary captain taking us to shore, so that we may see the sun rise once more.