If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. A cliché as old as time itself.
For a band of THE NATIONAL‘s stature, you’d think that eight records later they would follow that mindset. However, with I AM EASY TO FIND it appears that the Cincinnati, Ohio sad dads are still reinventing themselves and looking for new ways to convey their usually depressive message to their loyal legions of fans.
A session at London‘s iconic Maida Vale Studio for Mary Anne Hobbs’ BBC Radio 6’s segment showcased three of the sixteen we’re offered in next month’s release. This short-but-sweet interlude between sold out shows in Paris and London teased fans with another new track; Oblivions, having already heard Rylan and Light Years. Alongside a string of accompanying musicians, the band’s whistle-stop at the Westminster studios cranked up the excitement ahead of the record’s official release on May 17 – but from what we (the people not attending the ‘special evening’ shows) have heard so far, what can we make of I Am Easy To Find?
In order of the tracks performed today (April 18), we’re going to run through our thoughts of the record a month ahead of schedule.
Ryaln is a timeless classic. Previously hanging somewhere between Kexp and various setlists around the world, it is an incredibly catchy tune – both lyrically and musically – and I am personally glad that it has finally been given a home. In the same way that 29 Years eventually transformed into Slow Show and Val Jester was revealed to be “my great uncle Valentine Jester” (Day I Die), The National have always been a band to bring up almost ‘forgotten’ moments and with Rylan they’ve done that once more.
It isn’t an Arctic Monkeys – R U Mine? scenario (it should have never been on AM, by the way, but that’s another story for another day), but instead it has gradually increased in popularity and after pleas from fans across the world they have polished it, prepared it and most importantly placed in on I Am Easy To Find. They could have so easily put it out as a stand-alone single, perhaps for Cherry Tree subscribers, but have instead kept it for this very special record. It has been placed towards the end of the record, so if you are like me and play records in order, you will have to embrace thirteen ‘new’ The National songs before finding out how it sounds all dolled up (in straps).
Oblivions was the only ‘new’ track that The National took to Maida Vale and it is, in all honesty, very typical of what they offer. That isn’t a bad thing, obviously. A Berninger baritone and a Devendorf-led beat? What’s not to like? Choruses of plea (“you won’t walk away, won’t you?”) and simultaneous ‘knowing’ (“you don’t walk away, don’t you?”) are nothing out-of-the-ordinary, but as mentioned at the top of this post – if it isn’t broke, why fix it?
What was perhaps most striking (to me, anyway) about Oblivions when it premiered on BBC Radio 6 was how unlike everything pre-Sleep Well Beast it is. The six records prior were brilliant, but had a certain ‘rawness’ surrounding them. Whether it is the accompaniment of female vocals, or the band’s involvement with the likes of Big Red Machine and El Chan, there is something new about their sound. Will I Am Easy To Find be the first album to stray away from the possessed-esque sound we’re always treated to with Turtleneck, Available, Squalor Victoria, etc.? I hope not, but if this is a truly ambient 16-song package, I cannot wait to see them perform in palladiums and concert halls across the world from the comfort of padded seats sipping gin.
Light Years is where I expect people to disagree with me. I absolutely LOVE the piano instrumentation throughout, but lyrically I am just not feeling a connection. Perhaps (and in no way am I questioning the reasoning of The National) the ‘lacklustre’ lyrics are to divert the attention of the listener to the eerie, piano-led ballad? I am not saying it is a bad song; far from it, in fact. I just expect a little bit ‘more’ from Light Years.
With, say, Walk It Back from Sleep Well Beast, we were given the infamous Karl Rove quote, which added something a bit different to the track. I loved it and Walk It Back was instantly the track that stood out – mainly because of that sample – with Light Years I just feel that it is missing something towards the end. I mean, the haunting outro of a sole piano packs a punch and the accompanying visuals speak ten thousand words, never mind a thousand, so in that respect it is a nailed-on The National masterpiece.
Again, let me reiterate – IT IS NOT A BAD SONG.
From the three tracks we (non special evening goers, yep, I will be sobbing tonight too) have heard so far, it appears that I Am Easy To Find will be easy to fall in love with. My hopes are that we get a Turtleneck-esque track (or three), but aside from that I am glad that Rylan will no longer be only available on YouTube as a Kexp recording and equally glad that Light Years – a track I heard in Dublin last year – is also given a place to call home.
What are your thoughts? Let us know on Twitter or in the comments below