Trouble Will Find Me by The National (4AD, 2013. 55 minutes)
The National is Matt Berninger, Aaron Dessner, Bryce Dessner, Scott Devendorf, and Bryan Devendorf. The band has released 6 full-length albums.
Let It Be
When you find yourself in times of trouble, what comes to you? What speaks words of wisdom? Where do you go?
In those dark places where trouble might find us, we all seek our buoys, those things which speak truth to our soul. Perhaps it’s a book. Maybe a painting. Potentially a collection of songs? While I personally won’t go so far as to say Trouble Will Find Me is my muse, its content and production make it a front-runner.
In short, this album sticks to the soul like glue. I have yet to conclude whether the record reinforces, making me stronger, or if it exists as a Band-Aid covering the cracks as I come apart from the seams. Or in less flowery language, I can’t tell if Trouble Will Find Me encourages me or leaves me more devastated. Either way, it’s a brilliant album.
Of Dread and Hope
Lyrically, vocalist Matt Berninger balances the dichotomy of dread and hope in life and relationships. Berninger, in his dulcet tones, sings of frailty and doubt. For example, the album’s first single, “Sea of Love,” imagines a father-son relationship where the messiness of adult relationships influences a child:
“Joe, I’ll always think of you / As the kind of child who knew this / Was never gonna last / Joe, you fell so fast”
In contrast to the crushing dread of “Sea of Love,” “Fireproof” considers a character with the strength to not let difficulties carry too much influence.
“You keep a lot of secrets and I keep none / Wish I could go back and keep some / You’re fireproof / Nothing breaks your heart / You’re fireproof / It’s just the way you are”
Song by song, Berninger tends to decathect with unique abilities in illustrating human experience. It’s an impressive talent.
The National Trademark
Musically, The National’s trademark is Berninger voice. The baritone-tinged vocals have a calming effect, while Berninger marinates every note with deep emotion. At this point in the band’s career, The National has created a blueprint for a song. The verses typically include low vocals and introspective instrumentation; the choruses lean on melody and intriguing musical counterpoint. And any good National song needs an anthemic bridge/outro for the crowds to sing along.
Additionally, the Dessner brothers offer gorgeous arrangements full of detail. The band capably balances subtle atmospheres with driving energetic rock.
A Functional Escape
Even though I thoroughly enjoy the music, the brilliance of Trouble Will Find Me resides in its realism. Life is hard. We all have bills to pay. We all have relationships that fall apart. Even when we try our best, sometimes we fail. Topics such as these move me deeply.
In “Graceless,” perhaps my favorite tune on the record, Berninger captures both the dread and the hope a human experiences in everyday life.
On one side, Berninger considers the difficulties:
“Graceless / Is there a powder to erase this? / Is it dissolvable and tasteless? / You can’t imagine how I hate this / Graceless”
Yet at the same time and in the same song, Berninger can look forward to that which is better:
“Now I know what dying means / I am not my rosy self / Left my roses on my shelf / Take the white ones they’re my favorite / It’s the side effects that save us / Grace”
When we find ourselves in times of trouble, art can become an encouraging escape. With the ability to express hope and despair in equal measure, Trouble Will Find Me functions well as the escape. Go give it a listen.
Verdict: 4.5 out of 5