Saturday, April 23, 2016

Trouble Will Find Me (2013)

Trying to figure out why I'm a little embarrassed to like this album so much. It's not because I'm late to the party—I'm always late to the party. Trouble Will Find Me is the sixth album by the National in some 12 years, following up the commercial breakthrough of 2010's High Violet with another big hit. Learning about something with the rest of the masses is not it either. Sometimes you just have to use those masses for your cues, and I have no problem with that. No, it's something more about the grain of the music itself, which is insinuatingly moody and often beautiful, but also has a certain softness that makes it feel just a little weak-kneed. But I'm a little weak-kneed myself in the presence of these lilting, lovely songs. I love that the origins of the band are in Cincinnati, Ohio, and that it's the label 4AD enjoying the bonanza of betting on them. Matt Berninger's deep croaking vocal loses power at certain ranges, which coupled with the lyrical strategy of banging away on evocative phrases ("you should know me better than that," "I stay down with my demons," "I'm not alone," "I need my girl," so on so forth), produces a certain equivalent to the movie aesthetic derisively labeled mumblecore. It's usually framed as a generational problem—mumblecore is for millennials and late Gen X-ers and real adults have no patience with it. So the National fits that way. But it's not a fair knock—mumbling has significant  sources reaching back to Marlon Brando and James Dean, not to mention R.E.M. It represents an ideal of the soulful incoherent, who communicates primarily emotion, primarily by gesture. That's not exactly what the National is doing—the production values have a good deal of clarity and precision, they are articulate, and 4AD makes a nice home for the kind of high swooning oblivion bliss-out exercises that are also touched here. But somehow the combination of effects undercuts one another just a little for me. I often feel a yearning to connect with it, even as it plays, and even as fragments of it reach me and nag at me when I'm distracted with other things. But on another level it somehow remains elusive to full attention. The surface of this music promises great depths, or implies them, and I'm starting to think they might not be there after all. But certainly it remains a lovely surface.

1 comment:

  1. I've always thought of them as a 2nd or 3rd generation Midwestern version of Joy Division. The edges sanded down, polished, the voice in a gothic but American grain.