“Hey Joe, sorry to hurt you, but they say love is a virtue, don’t they?” On The National’s new single “Sea of Love”, this quiet apology to a friend is a battle cry for affirmation of love. At this point, The National are indie rock legends, and themes of terrible love and trying relationship are no taboos. Rather, through Matt Beringer’s delightfully difficult lyrics and the musical arrangement of Bryce Dessner, along with his brother Aaron and the two Devendorf brothers Bryan and Scott, we’ve learned to see life and love in new light. The societal woe of “Mistaken for Strangers” and “Green Gloves” off of Boxer taught us the danger of contemporary narcissism and the importance of selflessness. “Sorrow” and “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” from 2010’s High Violet showed us that the problems of relating to other people don’t solve themselves with age. But now, after touring extensively for High Violet and working on the film Mistaken For Strangers together with Matt’s brother Tom, the band reportedly finds themselves more in sync with each other than ever, and the product we see out of this synchronicity is Trouble Will Find Me. It should be no surprise to anyone that Trouble is a masterpiece – it is a perfect extension of the larger sound and scape of High Violet and the delicate, meticulous balance of Boxer. But more importantly, Trouble Will Find Me finds The National at a comfortable level of self-understanding, which reveals itself in a gorgeous, hopeful album full of love and grace.
Matt Beringer may be one of the most self-aware individuals on the music scene today. And if he’s not, then he is at least the most repentant about it. We’ve witnessed this in the past with the quiet power of “Start A War” and the brutal honesty of “Afraid of Everyone”. But Beringer’s conviction never comes off as sorrow for sorrow’s sake. Rather, his confessions infer that these are problems he is working through, and that some hope exists on the other side. This, in essence, is what makes The National such a relatable band. Trouble Will Find Me definitely doesn’t hold back on gloomy realism. “Demons” is a gorgeous exegesis of Beringer’s tendency to stay shrouded in the shadow of his own self-doubt because he feels he can’t provide a sense of joy or peace to those close to him. On “Slipped”, Beringer deals with ghosts of the past and attempts to strike a balance between internalization and learning to deal.
But Beringer also offers a larger sense of consolation on this record. I guess you could say on Trouble, love is a rocky, unpaved two way street, whereas before, love has often seemed like an impossibly treacherous thicket or a one way trip off a cliff. On “Sea Of Love”, Beringer calls out Joe, who seems to have let a selfish love dominate his emotional understanding of the verb more so than the possible action behind it. “Graceless” is a thesis statement on the Beringer interpretation of the concept of grace. “Don’t let them die on the vine – it’s a waste”, he sings, begging friends and foes to understand the greater love that motivates sacrifice. It’s a love that goes beyond comfort and changes the world of those around you. But perhaps the most lovable offering on Trouble is the absolutely gorgeous “I Need My Girl”, where Beringer documents the real life hardships of love and commitment that, without question, end in Beringer’s understand of his own need for this person. It’s a tear-jerker, for sure, but the honesty and the conviction in this song prove that like all The National cuts, there isn’t an ounce of pop cheese to be found.
On the music end, The National has only grown tighter and vaster with time. “I Should Live In Salt” and “Demons” play around with some fun time signatures, and “Don’t Swallow The Cap” is a driving, inspirational instant classic of a National tune. But musically, the band’s current emotional connectedness is most evident towards the end of the record. “Humiliation” is a driving, slow burner jam that holds the same triumphant feeling of loss as High Violet’s “London” (it also makes a fantastically well utilized Blue Velvet reference). Then, the piano driven “Pink Rabbits” is a delightfully well put together reprieve before the divine closing power of “Hard To Find”. This pinnacle of a finale is as heart breaking as anything the band has ever put together. The Dessner brothers create a perfect pacing all the way to the end of the track with a gorgeous harmonic volley between the guitar and piano. Then, as Beringer closes this quiet cry for true love and relationship in those close to him, he closes with “You can all just kiss off in the end”. The internal conflict in Beringer’s voice is so personable you can taste it. Brutally moving as ever, The National close out another near-perfect record in undeniably gorgeous fashion.
With Trouble Will Find Me, The National throw another flawless effort in the bag. Like the best of their collection, Trouble will challenge you to explore the dark side of your humanity more than you are willing to. But perhaps more so here than with other releases, The National remind you that you aren’t alone in your search for self-awareness and understanding. After all, we all reside in a fake empire where we all lay claim to much more than we can truly grasp. The National just want to help you through it one album at a time.
Trouble Will Find Me came out this week and is in record stores now. You can see The National this fall at the Paramount Theatre on September 19 & 20. Grab tickets for both dates here.