TROUBLE WILL FIND ME
Serenity isn’t all that serene for the National on the band’s sixth album, Trouble Will Find Me (4AD). It’s the plushest, most burnished album from a New York City band that has increasingly leaned toward the measured and stately. This time, the National utterly refuses to buttonhole listeners; the music calmly awaits attention, but amply repays it.
There has always been a deliberative, classical-tinged element in the National’s music. It tucked minimalist patterns into its songs and got string and brass arrangements from composers like Nico Muhly and Padma Newsome as well as from its own guitarist Bryce Dessner, who has a master’s degree in music. But the band has also let guitars distort and drums kick into the foreground or pitted rock instruments versus orchestra.
Trouble Will Find Me, produced by the brothers (and guitarists and keyboardists) Bryce and Aaron Dessner, purrs smoothly all the way through; nothing protrudes or interrupts the luxurious melancholy of the songs. Guitars and keyboards are resonant, unhurried partners to durable melodies; the orchestrations nestle within the tracks, cozy and self-effacing. The music’s tensions arise elsewhere: in lyrics full of regrets and brushes with death, in the way Matt Berninger’s doleful baritone moves beyond its usual deadpan, in the gradual but eventually overpowering buildups.
The National has also added a subtle new device: odd and shifting meters that move the songs away from the subliminal comforts of 4/4. The opening song, I Should Live in Salt, works in sections of 9 beats and 8 beats, the extra beat jostling each time it occurs; the nervous undercurrent in Demons is its 7/4 meter.
Demons is a resigned portrait of chronic depression, with its glumness verging on shtick: “When I walk into a room I do not light it up,” Berninger sings at the low end of his range. In other songs, narrators watch themselves and others succumb to druggie temptations (Sea of Love), wonder if they’re dying (Heavenfaced) or drift toward separation and solitude; one of the least cryptic lyrics in Berninger’s catalog is Fireproof, with folky fingerpicking over a tolling piano, in which the singer tells a distant woman, “You keep a lot of secrets and I keep none.” The album concludes with Hard to Find, a hymnlike melody with a quiet minimalist drone at its center, and a glimpse of desperate alienation in the subjunctive tense: “If I tried you’d probably be hard to find.” The music is poised, but it’s not hiding anything.
— JON PARELES, NY times news service
The drummer Mike Pride has often hunkered down with music of physical extremes, working fast and hard and putting a lot of honest intention behind the effort itself. But as a committed avant-gardist — as rooted in the flintier subcultures of jazz as he is in noise and doom metal — he also understands the purpose of a conceptual frame.
It’s meaningful that the two new albums he has released side by side, Birthing Days and Drummer’s Corpse, draw inspiration from the human body at either end of the life cycle. Pride, 33, has set out to convey some basic insights about the heady miracle of life and the cold banality of death, from his own recent vantage. That he shows his creative range in the process hardly seems like an accidental byproduct.