I Am Easy To Find
The National = Arcade Fire + Sufjan Stevens + Nick Cave
The National have been around for a long time now, and when bands have been making music for two decades, they can sometimes sink into a style or aesthetic that has been successful for them. Because they have a relatively robust catalog, I know that each album from The National has the possibility of falling onto my ears as a set of relatively inconsequential, brooding, big indie tracks by a collection of morose, upper-middle-class white guys. Fortunately, for me, I Am Easy To Find comes off far more positively than I had anticipated.
2017’s Sleep Well Beast showed The National beginning to experiment with some more jagged, electronic instrumentation that added a sense of liveliness to their sound. With I Am Easy To Find, The National choose not only to incorporate these punchy innovations, further but to use them to explore lighter, more spring-friendly soundscapes.
The album opener, “You Had Your Soul With You,” is a remarkably energetic introduction to I Am Easy To Find that does a great job of setting the album’s overall tone. With the same gusto that made the intro a highlight, “Where Is Her Head” stands out with its bombastic, crisp percussion and angelic harmonies, and “The Pull Of You” is similarly large and vibrant.
The inclusion of multiple guest vocalists on I Am Easy To Find allows for brighter colors and textures to contrast the croon of Matt Berninger. The allowance of the additional voices of Gail Ann Dorsey, Sharon Van Etten, Lisa Hannigan and Mina Tindle in many case, to share the position of lead vocals create bright, rich textural contrasts to Berninger’s baritone. “Dust Swirls In Strange Light” doesn’t even feature the frontman and instead gives center stage to the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, whose place throughout the album seems to reflect the band’s attempt to add some exuberance to their beautiful, if not a tad gray, construction of the world.
The two longest songs on the album, “Not In Kansas” and “So Far So Fast,” play back to back and impressively manage not to halt the listening experience completely. The first of the two, “Kansas,” is a bit slow, but the atmosphere created by the guitar tone, violins and chorus of vocoded singers make up for the pace. The second archives the best synthesis of The National’s past and present timbre on the entire album.
Some of the songs here revert a bit to some of The National’s previous work, but even Trouble Will Find Me leftover “Rylan” is surprisingly successful in the context of I Am Easy To Find, despite it representing former songwriting ideologies. The album’s title track is stunning enough (I’m a sucker for a children’s chorus) that I don’t even mind that it feels a bit regressive in comparison to some of the album’s more instrumentally adventurous tracks.
All of that said, at over an hour long and 16 tracks, I Am Easy To Find could have used a more heavy-handed editing phase. The songs that feel more classically within The National’s moody sonic wheelhouse—slow burns like”Roman Holiday,” “Hey Rosey” and “Hairpin Turn”—just don’t keep up with the more dynamic songs on the album.
I’m not sure I Am Easy To Find will be an album that converts the band’s skeptics, but the dashes of color and excitement added to The National’s already proven formula of introspective indie rock make the best case for a change of heart as the group has ever offered. This album is an interesting case of the cover doing a great job of representing the music within—the image, in black and white, of a resting Alicia Vikander that represents the band’s musical essence, and impressionistic paint strokes on top that introduces new palettes of color to the diegesis of The National’s musical career. –Evan Welsh