Published May 14, 2019The National have always been the kind of band that enjoy a longer gestation period when making a new album. Following a four-and-a-half year wait between 2013's Trouble Will Find Me and 2017's Sleep Well Beast, the National have rebounded less than 18 months after the latter with their eighth full-length.
I Am Easy to Find, however, is not merely a National album, it's also a mixed media collaboration with Oscar-winning filmmaker Mike Mills. On top of co-producing the album with the band, Mills also wrote and directed a companion short film starring fellow Oscar winner Alicia Vikander, as well as composed a score, alongside Jonathan Low, using snippets of early album cuts.
While the National are often accused of upholding a predictable signature sound with each subsequent album, make no mistake that I Am Easy To Find is unlike anything they've released before. With Mills on board as another shot caller, or better yet, an editor, he's helped shake up the process by eliminating those fortified rock songs in favour of more fluid structures and lush string arrangements (although long-time fans will rejoice in finally getting a recorded version of live favourite "Rylan").
Mills' contribution aside, it's the team of voices joining frontman Matt Berninger that arguably make this National album such a radical departure. Inviting friends such as Lisa Hannigan, Gail Ann Dorsey, Sharon Van Etten, Kate Stables (This Is the Kit), Mina Timble and Eve Owen (Clive's daughter) to step in and shine gives a stronger voice to both Vikander's protagonist in the film, as well as the words of Berninger's spouse, Carin Besser, the longtime National lyricist who took on an greater role this time around.
It can be an adjustment hearing Berninger get overpowered by the opulent voice of Dorsey on "Hey Rosey" or "You Had Your Soul With You," or completely step aside so Owen can steer the swirling chaotic noise of "Where Is Her Head," but these types of gambles feel like a whole new band at times. Berninger does lead one of the album's standout moments: a seven-minute, stream-of-consciousness verse completed by a beatific choir that, again, sounds unlike anything previous of theirs.
The National have always been more than just five guys in a room, but now more than ever this symbiosis has completely refreshed the dynamic. I Am Easy to Find feels like a restart for a band in its 20th year. It might challenge some fans and may not ever grow on others, but more than anything, it proves that the National are not the band you thought they were. They're way more than that. (4AD)