Parker Evans is an economics senior and Mustang Daily music columnist.
By all accounts, Matt Berninger is a happy man. He’s married with a daughter, and between all the interviews and Reddit AMAs leading up to the album release, The National seems to be content.
You wouldn’t know it from “Trouble Will Find Me.”
The band’s seventh LP is a labor of sadness. Make no mistake: This is an album written by sad bastards for sad bastards. Of course, this isn’t uncharted territory for The National, whose last album, the equally sad-sack “High Violet,” was met with critical and commercial acclaim.
Berninger’s ragged baritone has a gift to dive deep into the alcohol and regret to emerge with a beautiful, bone-cutting song that drags the listener back down into its depths.
The kind of misery-loves-company power that The National wields is, well, powerful. There’s a long-running online forum called “American Mary” where die-hard fans have been trading rarities and discussing every aspect of the Brooklyn-by-way-of-Ohio band in great detail. This is the sort of music that connects with people.
Fans don’t need to worry — this extends the band’s streak to four straight excellent albums — but even after so much material in the same vein, “Trouble Will Find Me” manages to find ways to distinguish itself.
Musically and rhythmically, it’s more creative. The album features no fewer than three different songs in trippy time signatures, designed to keep you as off-balance as the songs’ hopelessly defeated narrators.
Bryan Devendorf cements himself as the best drummer in indie rock by showcasing his tremendous ability to affect the tone of a song with either a few deft brushstrokes (“Heavenfaced”), or towering crescendos (“Demons”).
After being together with a constant lineup for 14 years, The National works flawlessly as a unit. The members know when to get out of each other’s way, and they know exactly where the focus should be when Berninger delivers a brutal bit of gloominess like, “I don’t need any help to be breakable, believe me/I won’t need any help to be lonely when you leave me” on “Slipped.”
For a band that’s known for its melancholy weight, the subject matter of “Trouble Will Find Me” is somehow even bleaker. The recurring motifs of alcohol (Berningner’s signature drink is a bottle of red wine) and regret are out in full force here. On “Pink Rabbits,” the object of the narrator’s lost love enjoys the eponymous beverage, which the Internet claims is an unholy combination of tequila and strawberry Nesquik.
The album’s most evocative track, “I Need My Girl,” is a throwback to “Alligator”-era National. It’s less of a love song than a portrait of a newly single man alone at a party, but Aaron Dessner’s looping, shiny guitar perfectly encapsulates the narrator’s loneliness.
But it’s “Humiliation” that best sums up the work of The National. It’s the kind of song indie kids will have on playlists when they’re dads, nestled comfortably inbetween The Walkmen and Wilco. “In the skies over black Venice/I see eyes of a white menace” is the kind of contextual perfection that so many bands will never be able to pull off, but here, Berninger delivers it apathetically because there’s so much more where that came from.
More than anything, this is a heavy album. Its gravity pulls you closer and threatens to suck you in completely. As an exploration into the depths of humans at their very lowest, “Trouble Will Find Me” is a soaring triumph by experienced explorers.