The National|Trouble Will Find Me
21 May 2013
I tend to shy away from writing reviews that include my personal narration. But truth be told, I pushed play on The National’s sixth album Trouble Will Find Me today at 3:30pm. I kept it playing, first with a friend, then alone in my ears in bed, then back out to the speakers for a study session with my roommate. At 10pm I brewed a pint of coffee and took it back with me into bed. It’s now, 4:12am and I haven’t stopped listening. I had to put my thoughts down somewhere, and as I write this, I am afraid I won’t be able to find the proper language to describe the masterpiece that I’ve just spent half a day with.
The first, and constantly reaffirmed but inexplicable thing about The National, is their uncanny ability to create the absolute best record you have ever heard, until their next record. At this point, I’ve grown not to expect this, but to know this. Trouble Will Find Me does not break this mold, in fact, it takes High Violet (my previous favorite record of the decade) and tosses it like a cannonball from a cannon off its throne.
The album opens with a solo acoustic guitar on the track “I Should Live in Salt.” Through a laundry list of reasons why we should know Matt Berninger better than that, drums and flute (I think) join the parade of handsome sorrow. This slowly drifts off into a wonderful break of emotion, typical of The National, shattered by Berninger’s unmistakable baritone. “Don’t Swallow the Cap” is full of the charming, strutting keys of Aaron Dessner backed by an orchestra of their ever-present emotional strings.
“Fireproof” sounds musically new in style, before vocals pull hearts immediately back. “You’re a needle in the hay, you’re the water at the door, you’re a million miles away, doesn’t matter anymore,” whether or not channeling Elliot Smith, this line is indescribably gorgeous as its sung. The album picks up into “Sea of Love” while the whole world now only sees the face of an adorable kid playing air guitar in a suit. “Heavenfaced” begins the set of some of the best National songs to date. Dominated by vocals for the majority of the track, the song explodes into one of the absolute most beautiful compositions of instrumentation. Patterns of instruments playing against one another bring their sounds to life closely outshining Berninger’s words.
The next six tracks are arguably what set this record apart from all of The National’s. Every National fan has at one point in their life sat down with friends to try and make sense of the so deeply metaphorical (or just nonsensical genius?) lyrics, coming out with no explanation to show for (Really, what is a birthday candle in a circle of black girls?). The lyrics on Trouble Will Find Me are a wide open book. Honest to a point of heartache; skin and bones with nothing more to mask the expressed anguish. On “This is the Last Time” we hear “Oh, don’t tell anyone I’m here. I got Tylenol and beer. I was thinking that you’d call somebody closer to you. Oh, but your love is such a swamp, you’re the only thing I want. And I said I wouldn’t cry about it. This is the last time.” “Slipped” is a downright gut wrenching narration of desperate lost love with “I don’t need any help to be breakable, believe me…I won’t need any help to be lonely when you leave me. It’ll be easy to cover…I don’t want you to grieve but I want you to sympathize. I can’t blame you for losing your mind for a little while. So did I.”
“I Need My Girl,” fronted by airy guitar gives The National a soothing off-in-nature type feel. “Pink Rabbits” is full of piano that resonates Lionel Richie and holds lyrics that drift back to what we know. “Am I the one you think about when you sit in your faintin’ chair drinking pink rabbits?” The album too soon closes with “Hard to Find,” a simple, soft and beautiful closing track.
This record from start to finish is utter perfection. Musically, it offers everything and more there is to love about not just The National, but all of the best life-changing moments that arise from music. Lyrically, it is their strongest, most transparent yet. It pains me to picture a record that could be more perfectly crafted than Trouble Will Find Me. This pain stems from the inability to process the feeling of something more beautiful, like trying to picture where infinity ends. And I sit here knowing that a year or two from now, I will watch this record be dethroned by the next one.