The first word that comes to mind after listening to The National’s new album is “restrained.”
Six or seven listens later and the small nuances on “Trouble Will Find Me” work their way out of the mix, but that first impression of the group’s sixth album still lingers.
The National was anything but restrained as it battled its way to the forefront of the indie rock movement with its last two albums. The quintet distinguished itself from a legion of mope rockers by unleashing two formidable beasts: frontman Matt Berninger and drummer Bryan Devendorf.
Berninger’s majestic baritone and vivid lyrics and Devendorf’s aggressive, time-shifting attack differentiated The National, providing a natural groove so rare among similar bands. With Berninger occasionally exploring new vocal approaches and Devendorf moved back in the mix, that groove is often forced to the side by airy atmospherics and sonic effects that are indeed beautiful, but often insubstantial.
There are several strong entries here regardless of quibbles, including the high-rev “Graceless” and the wistful “Fireproof,” and Berninger remains among the sharpest of emotional interpreters, singing on “Pink Rabbits”: “You said it would be painless/it wasn’t that at all.”