Here's some important background information for anyone considering the sixth album from Brooklyn-based masters of rock 'n' roll despair the National: "I am not," singer Matt Berninger declares late in the album, on "Graceless," "my rosy self."
Longtime fans may appreciate the sarcasm, as the National's music has never exactly dwelled on the bright side, but Berninger sure isn't kidding. "Trouble Will Find Me" is a difficult 55-minute listen into the lives of characters who are once again on the brink.
Since 2007's "Boxer," the National has increasingly emphasized shading and texture, and here the melancholic melodies emerge in spite of themselves. "I'm having trouble inside my skin," Berninger sings on "Slipped," his Leonard Cohen baritone hovering in midair while his bandmates move in slow motion around him. It's almost as if they're afraid to get too close to the heartbroken vocalist. Drummer Bryan Devendorf's cymbal crashes are sometimes six, seven seconds apart, and the strings seem to be in fear of starting a fight.
Tension is explored in stutter-step electronics ("Demons"), late-arriving guitars ("Sea of Love"), menacing bass rumbles ("Fireproof") and shaky, deep-breath rhythms ("Pink Rabbits"). It's an album full of little moments that reward multiple listens. To the National's credit, its exploration of the dour has never been this subtle, but by never shifting the mood, the band has also never been this draining.
"Trouble Will Find Me"
Two and a half starsCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times