Listen: Trouble Will Find Me
The National (4AD, 2013)
The National’s latest album, Trouble Will Find Me, is an unabashedly brilliant collection of 13 songs that could easily be the album of the year. Building upon the critical acclaim and popular success of their previous outing, High Violet, The National has perfected their sound and delved deeper into the complexities of songwriting. Strip these songs of their subtle overdubs, string arrangements, and perfect production and you still find thoughtful and well-constructed gems.
What makes their sound so memorable? Certainly the unobtrusive and seamless weaving of atmospheric guitar, driving bass, minimalist piano, and buried horns has its appeal. As do the baritone vocals of their pensive lead singer Matt Berninger. Perhaps even more noteworthy is the drumming of Bryan Devendorf, whose contribution to the success of these songs deserves an article in itself. In truth, however, the real allure of these songs is the amazing balance of these components with meaningful and thought-provoking lyrics.
Berninger’s lyrics accomplish the poetic high-wire act of balancing specificity with ambiguity. Catholic listeners will find much to ponder in his words. Struggles in life and in love, the pull between secular and sacred; all tinged in a delicate sadness. In the best of these offerings, such as the song “Graceless,” the music and lyrics unfold with a slowly building tension that powerfully articulates the struggle to move beyond miserable absence. The hope-filled crescendo in that song comes only after emptiness and confusion have had their say.
Indeed there is something refreshing about an album that can hold the divergent and often conflicting elements of human experience together. This album can at one moment frustratingly utter, “God loves everybody don’t remind me,” and in another moment hopefully proclaim, “We’ll all arrive in heaven alive.”
This article appeared in the November 2013 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 78, No. 11, page 42).