The National wouldn’t be considered a “national treasure” without frontman Matt Berninger’s brassy, sultry, and all or nothing vocals in the spotlight. A one of a kind personality that’s been animating the album since their debut in 2001. But, a lot can happen in 18 years, including the introduction of a mix of female voices on their latest album I Am Easy to Find.
I was excited to crack this album open and dig into the soulful, bluesy, and passionate sound that is almost a guarantee which comes with any album by The National. But is this guarantee a good thing? Has the Cincinnati band gotten too comfortable in their own skin, to the point that certain songs on the album sound like they’ve been done before?
In the case of tracks like “Rylan” and “Hairpin Turns,” I would say yes. These two songs are filling up space on the record with what we already know the band to be good at. Sure, familiarity can be a good thing in some cases, but these two songs take us right back to 2001, resistant to the change, growth, and evolution which The National has undergone these past 18 years.
Some of the women on this album include Kate Stables, Lisa Hannigan, and Gail Ann Dorsey. Dorsey is a part of the album’s first number “You Had Your Soul With You.” She reveals herself in the middle of the song, changing it’s entire direction in singing “you have no idea how hard I died when you left.” Her voice is deep and smudgy like charcoal. Dorsey’s involvement with this album adds a layer of heartfelt expertise and a long-running history of making music with greats such as David Bowie.
Towards the end of the album, we are introduced to a piece called “Dust Swirls in Strange Light,” which is carried by the Brooklyn Youth Chorus. This is a story told through abstracts such as “her father’s voice,” “her mother’s heartbeat,” “the sunlight on her skin.” It is a rhythmic and heavily vocal piece which could be a key player on a set list at a cathedral. It’s also the first taste we get of The National without Matt Berninger.
Not to say that Berninger is again the star of the album. On the album’s second song “Roman Holiday,” we get a glimpse of Berninger’s darker side “put me on a rope, take me for a walk.” There is a rich and unrelenting desire in Berninger’s voice to make you feel what he feels. It’s an intensity which has only gotten better with age .I Am Easy to Find is both a bit of what we know, and a bit of what we’d never expect from The National. On one side of the coin, it’s an uneven album with many songs you could mistake for ones that have already been released by the band. On the other, The National brings in an army of groundbreaking female artists and explores lead singer Matt Berninger’s story to a new degree. Call it what you want, the album is an honest and cohesive addition to The National’s repertoire.