The National have just released a surprise album. Here’s how we rate Laugh Track

Album will be thrill for fans whose tastes veer towards fervid dynamics of old

Laugh Track
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Artist: The National
Genre: Alt.rock
Label: 4AD

Less than six months ago The National released First Two Pages of Frankenstein, their reflective, evocative ninth album, which reached topped the album chart. It turns out that the band had plenty more songs of a similar nature in their pockets.

First Two Pages of Frankenstein, we were told in April, was a declaration of faith, trust, focus and commitment between the band members, two of whom, the brothers Bryce and Aaron Dessner, had been collaborating with Taylor Swift, Bon Iver, Phoebe Bridgers and quite a few others in a quest to sprinkle some lo-fi magic over their work. The music left over from the recording sessions wasn’t finished, and neither were the lyrics, but between soundchecks while touring and other spur-of-the-moment sessions, new songs were formed.

If that ninth album brims with a sinuous, brooding introspection (and with melodies to die for), their 10th uses a similar sonic template. One of Laugh Track’s break-for-the-border songs is its almost-eight-minute closer, Smoke Detector, which has Matt Berninger speaking lyrics – “Sit in the backyard in my pharmacy slippers, at least I’m not on the roof any more” – to a backdrop of squalling guitars, lock-tight rhythms and clashing drums. It’s a reminder of how intense the band can sound, and will be a thrill for fans whose tastes veer towards the fervid dynamics of old.

But there’s also introspection, with much to love for any recent converts to The National’s pensive headphone tunes. The album’s oldest track, Weird Goodbyes, featuring Bon Iver, now finds a home after its detached outing last year. Other exquisite songs, such as Turn Off the House (“when your mind leaves your body ... turn off the house,” Berninger advises), the title track (featuring Bridgers), Crumble (featuring Rosanne Cash), Hornets, and Dreaming (“you personalise everything ... it’s all about you, it’s always self-devotion”), show The National are as good at stillness as they are at movement.


As a stand-alone piece of work, Laugh Track is a very fine album by one of the best alternative rock bands of the past 15 years. As a companion to First Two Pages of Frankenstein, it is brother to brother, twin to twin, soul to soul.

Tony Clayton-Lea

Tony Clayton-Lea

Tony Clayton-Lea is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in popular culture