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The National, ‘Trouble Will Find Me’ – Album Review

The National Trouble Will Find Me
4AD Records

The National pretty much summed up their aesthetic 10 years ago with the title of their second album, ‘Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers.’ No other blog-blessed indie band of the 21st century captures despair, melancholy and gloom in song quite like the Brooklyn-based quintet. Much of the gloom can be credited to singer Matt Berninger, whose grim baritone infuses the National’s songs with apocalyptic dread. Every heartbreak sounds like the literal end of the world when it comes from his lips.

But the group’s music, an intense mix of dark dismay and wordless beauty, is the key to its sixth album, ‘Trouble Will Find Me.’ Even when Berninger’s deep, plaintive tones get to be too much — and they often do — the haunting, gorgeous settings wash over the misery with determination to make everything OK. It’s not exactly uplifting, but it’s as close to some sort of assurance that you’ll find here.

On 2010’s ‘High Violet,’ the National painted their sad soundscapes with some of their grayest brushstrokes. It’s their weightiest album and the one that made them indie stars. ‘Trouble Will Find Me’ uses a similar palette, shading the work with enough shadowed opulence, and delicate encouragement, to keep your mind off just how flat Berninger can be at times. He may be the heart of the National’s music, but he’s not its soul.

And he wastes no time in hauling out the gloomy proclamations. “I should live in salt for leaving you behind,” he sings on the opening track over gently strumming acoustic guitars and an orchestrated arrangement that builds to a stirring finale. And so it goes for the next 55 minutes. Songs like ‘Demons,’ ‘Don’t Swallow the Cap’ and ‘Sea of Love’ combine carefully organized desolation with elaborately textured strings, horns and synths. Indie-approved pals St. Vincent, Sufjan Stevens, Sharon Van Etten and members of Arcade Fire show up with support.

Like the past few National albums, ‘Trouble Will Find Me’ grows with each listen. Aaron and Bryce Dessner’s intricate panoramas reveal more over time, opening up bits and pieces and fragments of sounds you may have missed during the first half-dozen plays. By then, Berninger becomes a part of the scenery, a sad voice in a sea of beauty. Desolation rarely sounds so inviting.

7 out of 10 rating

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