Trouble can result in difficulty, malice, worry, and unnecessary excursion. These are themes I encountered in my everyday life since receiving my copy of The National's new record, Trouble Will Find Me. This album is the most beautiful piece of music from The National to date and when I wasn't listening to it I found myself distracted and getting into "trouble." This, of course, was not the band's intention when titling this album, in fact the trouble they speak of is on completely different terms.
My relationship with The National and their music can be summed up with the expression "edge of my seat." I would add, however, that I've been sitting comfortably on the edge of my seat since encountering them at Hailey's, a small music venue in Denton, TX. Hailey's had just opened and The National was supporting John Vanderslice. I had no interest in either band at that point but when The National took the stage playing songs from their 2005 release, Alligator, a dark calm washed over me and my body tensed with anticipation before each new song.
Photo by Deirdre O'Callaghan
Each release since Alligator had a few-to-a-handful of brilliantly written and composed songs: 2007's Boxer held "Fake Empire," "Mistaken for Strangers," and "Slow Show." High Violet, released in 2010, was carried by tracks such as "Sorrow," "Terrible Love," and "Bloodbuzz Ohio." The band was busy on tour, starting families, producing records, and proving themselves to the world. When they settled into the studio to write Trouble Will Find Me the stars aligned for what is collectively agreed upon as the most comprehensive musical endeavor we've heard from these remarkable minds.
The band wanted to try for more classic songwriting this time around, citing Cat Stevens, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, David Bowie, and Roy Orbison as examples. What resulted was a confident, open, and lyrically cerebral record. "Sea of Love," track number five, sits just midway through the album. It's on this song we find the trouble settled. The song is about love and the turmoil that comes from a relationship in and of itself as well as at the end. It has a clever, anxious build with lyrics, "If I stay here trouble will find me, if I stay here I'll never leave, if I stay here trouble will find me, I believe...hey Joe sorry I hurt you, but they say love is a virtue don't they?"
Tracks like "Graceless" are a reminder of The National's signature sound. The percussion is upbeat, the guitars are haunting, and vocalist Matt Berninger cuts through the choral melodies just so to hold the song at the front. The musical arrangement is hopeful, but the lyrics are dark and self-deprecating.
Each song resonates in its own way as it relates to the whole, but The National's path is emotionally uncautious, leading the listener into unexplored inner caves. It's important to recognize the balance between the musical composition and the lyrical journey on Trouble Will Find Me, as they are often polarized, but it's this spectrum that holds the necessary tension to make the album both lively and harrowing.
Trouble Will Find Me is a long full-length project at thirteen tracks all around four minutes. The arc is not typical of an alt-rock indie album. It begins with the delivery of Scott and Bryan Devendorf's overwrought but atmospheric sound moving into more challenging lyrics; the final quarter of the album reaches deep into the shadows. This release by The National is already unforgettable.
Trouble Will Find Me was released on May 21, 2013 by 4AD. For more information, visit americanmary.com.