To listen to I Am Easy To Find is to hear The National opening their world a little more.
The National's body of work embraces a cinematic heaviness, seeking shelter in a life filled with doubt and sadness; there's always a sense of reckoning, for better and worse, that pushes the stakes of each album in their discography higher and higher. But I Am Easy To Find feels more present in its focus than a National album has in years. Produced in a collaboration with director Mike Mills that also yielded a short film starring Alicia Vikander, the album directly confronts the ways distance, both physical and emotional, frays the strongest love. "I'm learning to lie in the quiet light / while I watch the sky go from black to gray / learning how not to die," frontman Matt Berninger intones on "Quiet Light," and learning how not to die becomes the album's pulse. It's a melancholy race against time, taking stock of what's important in life while they still can.
I Am Easy To Find marries The National's dark indie rock with an orchestral verve, experimenting with the urgency the sound of strings lends a piece of music. The personal and exhaustive lyricism meshes well with the vivid soundscape, underscoring the album's emphasis on the present. "You Had Your Soul With You" and "Hairpin Turns" envision different faltering relationships, ranging from regret and guilt to impassioned, indignant heartbreak. The ballad-like "Not In Kansas" lives up to its iconic name, tracing what makes a life worth living with soft and excoriating imagery, while leaner tracks like "Where Is Her Head" and "Dust Swirls In Strange Light" play with pure sensation to indicate a thematic path. "Rylan," towards the end of the album, does this most explicitly in a plea to a child to grasp as much as life as they can, a plea that ends up sounding like a warning. The National does their best work giving uncertain answers, promising no happy ending but assuring the listener that a happy ending is still worth wanting.
"I Am Easy To Find" - A Film by Mike Mills / An Album by The National youtu.be
Maybe the most fascinating aspect of the album is the conscious way it takes the shape of a conversation—or a series of conversations—between Berninger's deep baritone voice and the various female collaborators featured on the album. Gail Ann Dorsey, Sharon Van Etten, Lisa Hannigan, Mina Tandle and more—accomplished artists and collaborators in their own right—appear as featured vocalists throughout the album, singing with and responding to Berninger's voice laid-bare. The lyrics plumb the depths of uncertainty and heartbreak, set against the sound's magnetic score, but this sense of communication, of genuine emotional exchange, grounds the album's ambition in something real. "Oblivions" and "The Pull of You," especially, use their central duets to try to bridge the chasm between the promises lovers make and what it takes to keep that love alive. This pairing of male and female vocals on a majority of the songs invoke a vast swath of narrative possibility—partners, parents, a generous breadth of perspective—but, most importantly, it allows The National to tell a more fleshed-out story.
The album's title track comes off like a bitter lullaby, a love poem tinged by cynicism: "I'm not going anywhere / Who do I think I'm kidding? / I'm still standing in the same place / Where you left me standing." But the refrain, and the album's title shouldn't be seen as giving up. It's perhaps best understood as a reassurance that whatever imperfect humanity gets in the way, the love that's built between two people is still worth salvaging. I Am Easy To Find is literal in its location and restorative in its commitment; it's a love story where understanding, rather than happily-ever-after, is an acceptable ending.
I Am Easy to Find
Matthew Apadula is a writer and music critic from New York. His work has previously appeared on GIGsoup Music and in Drunk in a Midnight Choir. Find him on Twitter @imdoingmybest.