I have been aware of the National’s critical stature for some years now, but I never felt the need to actually give them a listen until I pulled up their new album Trouble Will Find Me on Rdio some months ago. It received universal praise from critics, which wasn’t surprising in the least, and I was keen on finally given one of contemporary indie rock‘s most acclaimed band’s a test drive. My taste tends to skew towards older, heftier music, so I have been a reluctant adopter of the indie rock that has presented itself as a formidable force over the past decade or so; and generally speaking, I find newer acts to be pretty hit or miss. And for years, I expected my inevitable initial listen to the National, whenever it took place, to be a miss — based on everything I had read, they just didn’t appear to be my cup of tea. Which is why I was surprised to find myself really taken with Trouble Will Find Me when I finally gave it a listen nearly eight months ago.
The mood of the album — from the production to the songwriting — is considerably dour, with a gloomy, overcast atmosphere that adds a palpable grayness to it; but at the same time, Trouble Will Find Me isn’t difficult to take in by any means. Instead, it’s an almost jazz-like listen: there’s not a lot of urgency throughout most of it (although there are some more nimble numbers like “Graceless” and “Sea of Love”) and the tone is, for the most part, almost strictly reflective. In fact, I found Matt Berninger’s flat, nearly affectless vocal style more than a little curious (I had never heard anything quite like it), particularly on songs like “Humiliation,” my favorite song on Trouble Will Find Me, but I quickly realized that this is a subtle and cerebral album, and the vocals pretty much fit in perfectly with the tapestry of the entire record. It’s an album I found likable from the first listen, and it continues to provide pleasure after numerous passes through it. Some of the slower songs drag slightly, but it’s a very solid album.