This review was written by Colin Gay. You can follow him on Twitter @ColinGay17.
The National seemed to have its genre set. Lead singer Matt Berninger sings about private, internal emotions or extensive, wide-ranging ideas about the world as a whole to indie rock tropes the surrounding band members have come to embrace over the past 20 years.
However, in the band’s eighth studio album “I Am Easy To Find,” its first since the 2017 release “Sleep Well Beast,” the feelings represent more than just Berninger, giving The National its longest and most ambitious project to date.
Bringing in other voices such as Gail Ann Dorsey and a former session musician for the late David Bowie, The National focuses on long-term relationships and the feelings associated with them for the majority of the record. This creates a bigger sound for a band that had begun to redefine its sound over the past two albums.
The idea of the record, accompanied by a 23-minute short film by film director Mike Mills, begins from the first track: the single “If You Had Your Soul With You.” With the familiar tight drumming of Bryan Devendorf, who shines on this record, Dorsey comes in with a haunting bridge, beginning to define the ideas of the rest of the record.
Through the first half of the album, Berninger and Co. tackle feelings of longing in “Quiet Light” and marriage in “Oblivions,” where he and singer Mina Tindle end the song with singing “I still got my fear” over and over.
But the record does not begin to hit its stride until the first interlude “Her Father In The Pool,” a short 63-second cut with echoey choral female voices that leads into a stretch of three songs that is one of the best in The National’s discography.
Much in the same style of “Don’t Swallow the Cap” off of the group’s 2013 album, “Trouble Will Find Me,” “Where Is Her Head” has this quick and driving drum pattern, which, accompanied by the repeated questions sung by Dorsey, Eve Owens and guitarist Aaron Dessner, builds into this hypnotic pandemonium at the end.
Beginning with an addictive guitar riff from Dessner, Berninger showcases some of the most in-depth writing on “Not in Kansas,” using allusions to modern society and culture, whether it’s R.E.M. or The Strokes, to give an idea of how he sees life. It’s beautiful and does not seem limited, something the run time on the record itself shows.
The stretch ends with “So Far, So Fast,” which is primarily sung by irish singer Lisa Hannigan with only one verse from Berninger. The focus on this song, however, is the instrumental build to end it. As the Brooklyn Youth Chorus repeats “I get so far, so fast” seemingly on a loop, the song continues to jam, with guitar riffs and electronic sounds similar to that of “Sleep Well Beast.”
But with the run time, there were times that the album itself became long-winded. The song “The Pull of You,” using similar song writing very similar to “Not in Kansas,” used a unique spoken word tactic that would have been a highlight if not for the other song on the same album.
Also, songs like “Hairpin Turns,” which has a beautiful piano refrain at the chorus, felt like a filler song near the end, while “Dust Swirls In Strange Light,” with only a choir singing a Philip Glass-esque melody, felt like an entirely unnecessary extended interlude.
While being the most radio-friendly song on the record and being very enjoyable, “Rylan” did not seem to fit within the overall feel of the album. As a song the band has been playing live since the release of “Trouble Will Find Me,” this is a song in the traditional National mold, and adding the female voices in the verses seemed tacked on.
The record ends on a very high and somber note with “Light Years,” which, combined with a beautiful piano melody, is simple and highlights a grief-filled lyric.
“I Am Easy To Find” is a National record through and through. But with the message of the record, the heightened emotions not just associated with one man, Berninger, the band brought in more voices to depict that message more clearly.
And, overall, that experiment seemed to work.