The National has always had a special place in my heart. By the first time I ever picked up an issue of Rolling Stone Magazine in 2010, I was already a full-blown music lover. But my subscription to that magazine solidified it. Each issue they put together a playlist with the staff’s favorite songs of the week and the second song on that first playlist (right behind Jack Johnston’s “You and Your Heart”) was The National’s “Bloodbuzz Ohio.” It’s been in heavy rotation on my phone ever since.
Even so, after that initial impression it took me a long time to really start digging into The National’s discography. Generally, while I found it easy to get lost in the undercurrent of their trademark sonic subtlety, much of their work ran together for me and I would usually only come back to a couple of select songs for repeated listens. That was the case with their 2017 LP Sleep Well Beast, which was heralded at the time as their greatest work to date. “Guilty Party” and “I’ll Still Destroy You” from that album have been two of my most-listened songs ever since, but overall I found myself underwhelmed. That is not the case with its follow-up I Am Easy to Find, which is easily the greatest album I have ever heard from The National.
When I saw that the album stood at 16 tracks with a run time of over an hour, I was immediately apprehensive. Any album that runs longer than 45 minutes runs the risk of overstaying its welcome. But I Am Easy to Find is an impressively dense album that does an excellent job of getting the most out of its length. While the weird, disjointedly electronic intro of opener “You Had Your Soul With You” was a strange way to open the album, the band quickly follows up with one of the album’s standouts “Quiet Light” which mixes a beautifully ambient piano with low-rumbling electronic droning and the typically staccato drumming of Bryan Devendorf. Clearly meant to be a single, the song has a bit more of a pop sentimentality than most of The National’s previous work. But it also still boasts Matt Berninger’s brilliantly heartbroken lyricism, particularly in the first verse which opens with Berninger rumbling in his distinctive baritone “I used to fall asleep to you talking to me/I don’t listen to anything now.”
From here, The National do a great job of interspersing the album’s other standouts like the beautifully tragic “Oblivions,” the apocalyptic “Not in Kansas,” and the driving “Rylan” throughout the album amidst other lesser yet still great numbers like “Hairpin Turns” and “Hey Rosey.” But even the album’s most questionable moments like the Brooklyn Youth Chorus-helmed “Dust Swirls in Strange Light” and the poignantly paranoid “Where is Her Head” are memorable and add something to the LP’s broader context.
Many of the album’s songs have been in the work for some time belying an attention to detail and meticulous craftsmanship that unsurprisingly results in a strong whole. “So Far So Fast” and “The Pull of You” came out of the Sleep Well Beast sessions, and “Rylan” has been in the band’s live circulation for the better part of a decade. But the most significant contributor of the album’s staying power is the band’s use of a number of female vocalists like Mina Tindle and Gail Ann Dorsey, who often serve as the lead singers on their respective tracks and do an excellent job of supplementing Berninger’s baritone. The awesome acappella outro from a female chorus in “Oblivions” is particularly gripping.
Not only is I Am Easy to Find another link in the ever-growing line of great albums from The National, it is another stark reminder that 2019 is subtly making a case for itself as one of the strongest music year’s of this rapidly closing decade. As I prepare to turn the page on my first 10 years as an ardent music enthusiast (I got my first iPod back in 2009) it’s albums like these that remind me why I fell in love in the first place.