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The National

I AM EASY TO FIND

4AD

A return to familiar territory on album eight? Don’t count on it. Gary Walker delves into a challenging album with a lengthy list of guest vocalists

TRACKLIST

1 You Had Your Soul With You

2 Quiet Light

3 Roman Holiday

4 Oblivions

5 The Pull Of You

6 Hey Rosey

7 I Am Easy To Find

8 Her Father In The Pool

9 Where Is Her Head

10 Not In Kansas

11 So Far So Fast

12 Dust Swirls In Strange Light

13 Hairpin Turns

14 Rylan

15 Underwater

16 Light Years

L et’s get this out of the way first: long-standing fans who found 2017 album Sleep Well Beast’s exploratory electronic textures an uncomfortable left turn and yearned for a return to the trajectory set by mid-career highlights Boxer and High Violet don’t get their wish. Album eight is no attempt by The National to make their great advance on the mainstream, nor is it the more immediate, guitar-driven Alligator-like record some pined for. Indeed, it’s now easy to view the band’s last three albums as progressively less accessible artistic statements.

The headline here is the appearance of six female guest vocalists. In fact, the word ‘guest’ doesn’t do them justice, as often Matt Berninger steps aside entirely for swathes of these expansive, largely electronic songs.

It’s a bold move, allowing Berninger and co-writer and wife Carin Besser to probe the nuances of a faltering relationship from both sides across 68 challenging minutes. That conversation is summed up most succinctly on Hairpin Turns: “What are we going through, you and me… We’re always arguing about the same things/ Days of brutalism and hairpin turns.”

Lead single You Had Your Soul With You, a collision of skittering hard-panned electronics and Gail Ann Dorsey’s arresting middle-eight vocals, was no outlier.

The revelatory, collaborative Funkhaus Berlin sessions that informed much of Sleep Well Beast’s more electronic outlook cast their shadow again; often, the dancing snare and offbeat patterns of drummer Bryan Devendorf are the most familiar sound in the mix.

Berninger’s duet with French singer Mina Tindle, Oblivions, is like nothing The National have done: acoustic instruments warped into pulsing downbeat dance music. The Pull Of You is another potent example, bearing some of the hallmarks of Berninger’s side-project EL VY in its lo-fispoken word section before Berninger crashes in with a strained and urgent vocal and ragged guitars make a rare foray into the spotlight.

Lisa Hannigan and Sharon Van Etten are expert foils.

Quiet Light is stunning, lighter than we’ve come to expect from The National, but with a yearning sadness at its heart as Berninger reaches for a distant love.

You could conceivably listen to Hey Rosey or So Far So Fast in isolation and not realise it’s The National.

Dorsey takes the lead on the former, with an electronic pulse, strings and classical piano swirling around her voice. The latter’s fizzing synth and Hannigan’s mesmeric vocal make for spectral ambient electronica, but it’s two and a half minutes before Berninger appears, and then only as a dulcet harmony.

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In our cover story, we look back at The Stones Roses' classic 1989 debut album 30 years on from its release. Producer John Leckie takes us inside the making of the record and Peter Hook reveals how he would have made it sound even better. We also count down the 60 greatest debut albums of all time, from Are You Experienced to Unknown Pleasures. Elsewhere, the irrepressible Bobby Gillespie guides us through Primal Scream’s new best-of collection, Maximum Rock ‘N’ Roll, Kevin Morby explains why a concept album about religion might be the best record he’s ever made, and we meet the outrageously talented Aldous Harding to hear about joyful new LP Designer. We also profile the legendary Stiff Records and take an in-depth look at The Cure’s Disintegration – which turns 30 this year as the band prepare to headline Glastonbury. Legendary photographer Norman Seeff recalls shooting Blondie, Fleetwood Mac and The Rolling Stones, and if that's not enough we bring you the widest range of new album, reissue, turntable and accessory reviews anywhere on the newsstand. Long Live Vinyl is THE magazine for vinyl lovers.