When, last autumn, the perennially glum slowcore outfit Low announced the release of their twelfth long player Double Negative it didn’t feel like much of an event; simmering for more than 25 years, Alan Sparhawk’s canon had mostly been one to respect but not necessarily admire.
Its arrival heralded something quite different though; phased into despair by fake news and profoundly cathartic emotions, the Minnesotans built for themselves a revelatory new perspective, beckoning in swathes of distortion and processing which against the odds created a neo-classic. The National don’t have the sort of cult-only appeal required to just shred the past like that; their history is one in which, through being a shoulder to lean on over the last two decades, their warm but austere indie rock has become – in what counts for such in 2019 – mainstream.
But the times they are a changing. Their eighth album, I Am Easy to Find, keys into some of the prevailing winds of music making, collaborations and co-singing glued together with bursts of electronic noise, an approach which refocuses attention away from singer Matt Beringer’s often mournful tones.
It’s also accompanied by a short film directed by Mike Mills, a symbiosis which he describes as ‘hostile siblings that love to steal from each other’. Of course, such diversions are the prerogative of a band who’ve outlasted most of their Brooklynite kin to seek a different outcome, and on the opening track You Had Your Soul With You and later via Hairpin Turns it’s left to unfamiliar textures to fill the void their normally understated poise expands into.
Berninger appears on occasion to be deliberately avoiding the spotlight; former Bowie collaborator Gail Ann Dorsey leads confidently during her frequent appearances while Sharon Van Etten and Lisa Hannigan shoulder the responsibility on The Pull of You’s theatrics, one of the rare moments during which a pristinely running guitar seeks to pull matters back into more recognisable shapes.
At over an hour and with sixteen songs – brief instrumentals Her Father in The Pool and Underwater included – the overriding impression is of an installation in the process of being brought to life, the impressive sweep alone making it by far The National’s most ambitious project to date. To even attempt this requires courage enough to disenfranchise and sometimes fail – the funereally paced Not In Kansas lands right on the cusp of garbled self-indulgence – and the confidence to reinterpret fiercely, with the likes of Hey Rosey and Dust Swirls In Strange Light coming from a distant and alien sonic universe.
I Am Easy to Find is a title that begs analysis, a task The National’s serious and mindful fans will doubtless take on with particular relish. Literally, it’s the reassuring cry of a gentle friend when in need but scratch the surface and the listener is left with questions: how much of this relationship is real, and how much is imagined? What cherished notions of the past can still be relied upon? Maybe, as it turns out, we never knew them at all and this radicalism is a glimpse behind the curtain as the last threads of 20th century rock are consigned to memory.
It seems even the most familiar snakes can shed their skin.
By Live4ever - Posted on 27 May 2019 at 7:30am