Birthed from Cincinnati college jam sessions and an old band named after vocalist Matt Berninger’s mom (Nancy), The National proper came together in Brooklyn in 1999 and have released a string of increasingly critically acclaimed albums and EPs. Trouble WIll Find Me, their sixth full length, finds the band less tightly-wound in the rhythm department than on its predecessors, becoming increasingly chill yet somehow building to bigger, more anthemic choruses. This album may be their best to date (time will tell), as they have found the perfect way to grow and polish their sound on each album while keeping their overall sonic keystones intact.
Personally, I didn’t discover The National until Boxer. They hit a sweet spot with a more unique sound on their third album Alligator in 2005, so when Boxer was about to drop in 2007, the anticipation from indie-focused sites like Pitchfork and Stereogum was palpable. I was convinced to look into it. What I liked the most was the special way they combined chill melodies, guitars and keys with more aggressive post-punk bass and drums. It was at once relaxed and jittery—I’d never heard a band do that before. But it wasn’t until 2010’s High Violet that they really blew my lid. Drummer Bryan Devendorf was especially instrumental in convincing me of their greatness, because his explosive yet controlled beats on the album really took these swelling guitars and pianos, as well as Berninger’s baritone croons, cruising right over the cliff to a gnarly explosion on the rocks below. A good explosion—an explosion of sound—ya dig?
A perfect example of this is “Graceless,” a song that could be a ballad if Bryan wasn’t so obsessed with Joy Division and their drum-machine yet-human-powered patterns of snare fills, tom hits and quick hihat runs. He single-handedly (well, with both hands, and both feet) propels the song to its apex with Berninger in his trademark low wail, also recalling Joy Division and their iconic departed frontman Ian Curtis.
First single "Don't Swallow the Cap" references some classic universally-loved albums, "And if you want / To see me cry / Play “Let It Be” / Or ‘Nevermind’" as well as killer quoteable lines like “I have faith but don’t believe you / This love ain’t enough to leave you ”. "I Need My Girl" is another favorite, though it doesn't have much in the way of those killer drums, just a slow build of booming percussion; what makes it is the finger-picked electric and Berninger's lyrics, throwing at you some lines you never thought you'd hear sung in such a chill setting: "Remember when you lost your shit / Drove the car into the garden" and "I’ll try to call you / From the party / It’s full of punks and cannonballers". He is revealing himself to be one of the greatest lyricists of modern indie rock. “Fireproof” follows a similar route as “I Need My Girl,” with simple shakers pushing the song along for most of its duration, and cool guitar hammer-ons and low-end synth swells.
There are some new twists to the band’s sound that most people won’t even notice they’re so subtle and well-done. Opener “I Should Live in Salt” features a 9/4 chord progression that never feels unnatural. Near the album’s end, “Pink Rabbits” winds down with a midtempo piano groove and ambient guitar feedback wails, something they should experiment with more. “You said it would be painless / It wasn’t that at all.” is a key line from the track. “Sea of Love” rocks right off the bat, something they usually hesitate to do, tending to build songs up gradually. Buzzy bass breaks it down in parts, but it just keeps comin’ back up. Another addition is the many more instances of backing vocals, especially big sung/shout gang parts, which is a nice addition to a group focused so intensely on that one unique voice.
You can tell that The National hit a fruitful songwriting stride writing this album. It’s 13 tracks and damn near an hour, and you won’t regret a minute of what they included here. There is a fantastic flow from upbeat, crescendoing rockers to gentle yet looming ballads. 2013’s been a great year for indie rock and Trouble Will Find Me is bound to end up near the top of heap for me.