Trouble Will Find Me by The National
Upon your initial run-through of “I Should Live in Salt,” the first song on The National’s fantastic sixth studio album Trouble Will Find Me, you’re struck by how unnatural the beat is. The measures alternate between nine and eight beats (although I’m not smart enough to know if that means there’s actually a 17-beat measure encompassing both), and every time you hear that ninth beat you’re caught off guard. A few more listens and you’re able to sit comfortably with it, applauding yourself on your ability to recognize it when it’s coming, each time, predictable as the sun rise. Then, after sitting with the album for a couple months, you no longer notice that errant beat — you’ve successfully absorbed the unsettled-nature of the alternating beat, and are therefore left to contemplate the subtleties.
This is the nature of every song on the album. “Demons,” the 2nd song, has seven beats to every measure. You have to get to the third song, “Don’t Swallow the Cap,” before you’re rewarded with a more familiar 4-beat rhythm. Experimentation with rhythm is nothing new to The National. In fact, it’s something that drew me so strongly to them back in 2007, with their phenomenal song “Fake Empire” from their fourth album, Boxer. Back then, Bryce Dessner said of the rhythms in that song:
“The first song, ‘Fake Empire,’ is one that I wrote, and conceptually I said I would love to write a song that was based on a certain polyrhythm, the four-over-three pattern, which is what you hear in the piano. It’s something I, personally, have never heard in rock music. What’s interesting is the song sounds like it’s in four, but it’s in three. The harmonies and the way I’m playing the piano music are actually incredibly simple — sort of like ‘Chopsticks’ simple — with this really weird rhythm.”
This is also not the first time The National have appeared on the Calendar. In 2010, I fell hard for Matt Berninger and the brothers Dessner and Devendorf, placing their fifth album, High Violet, in the #1 spot for that year. So I was predisposed to love Trouble. There’s nothing new about the new album — if you liked them before, you’ll continue to like them, and if you disliked them up to this point, I don’t believe this album will sway your opinion. But if you’re unfamiliar with them, this is a perfect album with which to start your obsession. If High Violet was the output of a band at the top of their game (it was), then Trouble is that of a band finally free of any need to prove themselves.
This album could have been complete shit and people would have continued to buy it in droves. Imagine the freedom knowing something like that would put on your creative process. I would normally believe the pressure to succeed wildly would be a powerful motivator. This album is proof that it can be the opposite as well. We’ve got nothing left to prove, we’ve reached the pinnacle, and oh, by the way, here’s another album that’s going to knock your fucking socks off.
P.S. The band also performed the song “Sailors in Your Mouth,” which is from the cartoon Bob’s Burgers, (animated video here) after having done “Kill Your Turkey” for them last year, and having had the band’s video for “Conversation 16” from 2010’s High Violet directed by Bob’s Burgers director Scott Jacobson. How can you not love them?
P.P.S. The video above, for “Sea of Love,” is an original song by the National, with a completely ripped-off video. “A loving homage to one of our favorite punk rock videos,” as the band put it when the video was released. The original video, which you can watch here, is by a band called Zvuki Mu, a Russian punk band, for their song “Grubiy Zakat” You can view their video here.
Tomorrow: NUMERO UNO. So excited!
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