I just noticed something interesting about The National when I looked at their Wikipedia page today: the band is actually composed of two sets of brothers, the siblings Dessner and the siblings Devendorf. Lead singer Matt Berninger also has a brother whom he apparently invited into his home as recently as a halfdecade ago after said brother’s destitution (all this was reported by The New Yorker in 2013). As far as I know, no other band, or any type of group of people, has this exact familial setup.
Now, I personally don’t have a brother, and I’m not really sure what the exact implications of The National’s setup would be: basically I’m just trying to reconcile in my mind the fact that they have ANOTHER new album out now, so soon after Sleep Well Beast, and that’s it’s this full of inspired material of what seem to be these sessions of inexplicable gravity and meaning. Furthermore, more to I Am Easy to Find’s credit, it even gets by on what a lot of times comes across as a complete stylistic torpidity: most of it is as “down” as “Walk it back” from their last album and there’s definitely nothing as rocking as “Demons,” which to be honest is probably my favorite ever cut by The National. Lots of people will make a big deal about all of the female guest vocals spots on here. The first one which appeared I found a tad annoying and pointless, actually, and generally none of them mark too drastic a change in mood from Berninger’s laconic croon. Even Berninger himself takes on a vocal disposition that could be respectfully described as “consistent” and could derisively be described as “boring,” that sort of level, methodical courting of notes in a steady volume. So in a way the surprise comes in that, while faltering in energy level on “Quiet Light” perhaps, this exact vocal m.o. shines through as a galvanizing wrinkle, particularly on “Not in Kansas.”
“Not in Kansas” is a perplexing little mini-epic of indie rock, in its own right, declaring “I am not in Kansas / Where I am I don’t know where”, and devolving at the end into a singaglong of R.E.M.’s “The Flowers of Guatemala.” “The Flower’s of Guatemala,” in its own right, is a song about going to Guatemala and finding that “The people here are friendly and content”, which of course seems so basic but also to have eluded the sociological grasp of U.S.A. Maybe Berninger glimpsed some of that same friendliness in Kansas one time and is missing it, but what’s really compelling about this song is that his voice undulates with this unique sort of passion and he seems to be really invested in what he’s singing about. With this, you’d have to allot “Not in Kansas” as the centerpiece on I Am Easy to Find, a worthy title seeing as at the end it spins itself into probably the best, most fitting female guest vocals and also the MOST female guest vocals of any track, Gail Ann Dorsey, Lisa Hannigan and Kate Stables. They come in and summon up a sort of rustic, folky feel, appropriate given the song’s subject matter and also beautiful in its own right, reminding me strangely of a female Sufjan Stevens.
The title track I found a smidgen underwhelming but another highlight is “Hey Rosey,” which opens with one of the album’s few instrumentation anomalies, an achingly grating string segment. Again, as always seems to be the case when this band is at their best, the emotion itself seems to almost outweigh the song’s musical aspects, here finding Berninger almost at a LOSS for pertinence, uttering “Hey Rosey” in this sort of broken rhythm like somebody who can barely hold up the weight of his current mind state. And The National has always been that kind of band, without question. Nothing on I Am Easy to Find is likely to change that.