Anyone who is a fan of, or has heard the work of The National before, will probably be expecting their new release to share the same moody and dramatic composure as their previous records. It is, after all, what they are known for. Their Grammy Award winning 2017 album Sleep Well Beast won awards for such vibe conveyances and tracks from it have made their way onto my personal favourites list.
The new album, whilst largely in keeping with The National’s tone, on first listen, is drastically different. This may be purposeful, as it is in fact a collaboration with award nominated director Mike Mills. A short companion film of the same name is also released alongside it, inspired by the album, with music by The National.
This in mind, the listener should be more prepared to make sense of this new vibe. The first track ‘You Had Your Soul With You’ sets the tone for the sporadic nature of the albums songs, reflected in the arrangement of this tune, particularly in the opening few seconds. Berninger adds his usual melancholy undertone to otherwise uplifting instrumentation, (uplifting is not a word I would usually use to describe their work) then the moment Gail Ann Dorsey, (band mate of David Bowie no less) comes in with the harmonies – not only are we shocked to hear a new, female voice but the delightful sound opens up the track to a whole new level of strings and heavenly choral sections.
The other two singles released from this record are, in my opinion, the most commercially viable from the collection and are a good introduction for first time listeners of the band. ‘Light Years’ for example begins with beautifully captivating piano showcasing a very clever melodic trill; a pedal throughout the song which keeps you listening. Paired with the old familiar baritone vocals from Berninger and sprinkled generously with female harmony from several different features artists, the song’s heavy-hearted story is transferred in true National style and thus quickly becomes a favourite track on the 68-minute long album.
A whole listen in one sitting is what it takes to understand the full scale of this project. The words “I Am Easy To Find” scattered throughout the entirety echo the premise over and over. Bryce Dessner did a wonderful job arranging choral sections which can be heard throughout this album also. The voices of the Brooklyn Youth Chorus lend themselves gracefully and tastefully to the overall ‘film score’ feel. This is a piece of art rather than just an album. The concept of it being a collaboration between two creative halves, to produce something which is like two sides of a coin; interconnected but completely different. Like most creative forms art is subjective, you either love it or hate it. I however, enjoyed the listening experience and very much look forward to the film.
Shannon Pearl Powell