Sometimes, I tend to forget that the guys in The National are both thoughtful and innovative musicians. Despite being a group that shifted the sound of indie rock, it’s easy to think they’ve mostly done the same thing on every album. I Am Easy to Find is the first album since Alligator that feels like a significant shift for The National, and it’s a really grand thing.
Collaborating with Mike Mills has unleashed a more poetic side of Matt Berninger and a more ambitious side of the Dessner brothers. This is The National at their most experimental and grandiose. In addition to Mills, the additions of female vocalists and the Brooklyn Youth Choir flesh out the band’s sound in a way that hasn’t been heard before. While this often stretches The National to the boundaries of what the band has done and conjures large orchestrations, I Am Easy to Find is an intimate record. As a record that often mirrors life, the choral interludes like “Her Father in the Pool” play like a sunset on the last day of a long weekend. Songs like “The Pull of You” and “You Had Your Soul With You” are often glitchy and alarming in their shifts, but it never takes away from the record’s impression of life. Sometimes life is disorienting, but sometimes it clicks into place in unexpected ways such as in “Where is Her Head” or the title track. The additions of the female vocals make the album all the more conversational, and it really presents a much more human side of The National than has been seen.
I Am Easy to Find isn’t necessarily a natural progression from Sleep Well Beast. A pseudo-concept album is somewhat disorienting, after we heard Berninger and Carin Besser’s lyrics provide a relatively true to life portrait of their life on Beast. The title track is as heartbreaking as it is catatonic. “Light Years” conjures similar emotions, and they serve as good anchors for a record that is often joyful. Despite The National providing many high energy songs and occasionally being the drunkest band in indie rock, very often their songs are quite sad. Still the record’s greatest moment sees Berninger’s lyrics mimicking both pop culture journalism and Catholic homilies in “Not in Kansas.” The simple sound of the song is juxtaposed by Berninger seemingly trying to squeeze as many pop culture references in as possible. It’s a song with both worry and joy, but the choir of Gail Ann Dorsey, Lisa Hannigan, and Kate Stables welcome a calm death.
I Am Easy to Find is a record that’s perhaps the most human in The National’s discography. While it may not be as memorable as Boxer or as personal as Sleep Well Beast, it feels raw and true. It’s almost a rock opera about the human condition, but really it’s more like an indie rock Hemingway short story.