The National's 'I Am Easy to Find' is a rewarding and dynamic project

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The National w/ Mike Mills Photo: Graham MacIndoe

Nearly 20 years into their career, The National have proven that their brand of indie-rock sounds just as good even if they remodel the proverbial house.

I Am Easy To Find is the band’s eighth studio album and most enterprising project to date. They collaborated with Academy Award-nominated director Mike Mills (‘20th Century Women’ ‘Beginners’) on a short film by the same name, and Mills contributed to the band's creative process. Mills describes the two projects as “playfully hostile siblings that love to steal from each other.”

Alicia Vikander stars in the touching short feature that chronicles the literal comings and goings of life in its rawest beauty. The macro view showcases complimentary pieces that work well together but can also stand alone. The micro view is a dynamic, multi-discipline artform, that few are capable of taking on so successfully.

As per usual, the album is led by Matt Berninger’s trademark musings on, well, whatever it is that he muses on, paired with the colorful musical tapestry the Dessners and Devendorfs weave (in line with the sonic textures of 2017’s Sleep Well Beast). Theirs is a successful formula that fans and critics have gravitated toward for years. But, things are a bit different here; most noticeably the sweeping vocal additions of Gail Ann Dorsey (former Bowie bandmate), Lisa Hannigan, Kate Stables (This Is the Kit), Brooklyn Youth Chorus, and others. Filling in the space behind - and sometimes in lieu of - Matt’s rumble.

From a press release: “Yes, there are a lot of women singing on this, but it wasn't because, ‘Oh, let's have more women's voices,’ says Berninger. “It was more, ‘Let's have more of a fabric of people's identities.’ It would have been better to have had other male singers, but my ego wouldn't let that happen.”

You’ll find kindred National pounders a la “Bloodbuzz Ohio” with “Where is Her Head,” and if you’re looking for ‘butterflies-in-the-stomach’ ballads similar to “I Need My Girl,” look no further than the majestic closer “Light Years.”

Basically, there is no need to worry about where you left your keys in said house, you’ll still find ‘em.

The seeds of collaboration The National have planted have been blooming on the periphery for a while now. From Aaron Dessner’s heady PEOPLE collective project with Justin Vernon, to the most-excellent Day of the Dead tribute, along with Matt’s documentary work ('Mistaken For Strangers') with his talented director brother Tom Berninger. These guys thrive (and clearly enjoy) working as a bigger, diverse whole.

What’s all the more impressive is a band at the height of their success (read: increased scrutiny) chose to take a path that challenges not only their norms but their audiences.  I Am Easy to Find is a rewarding listen and will demand quite a bit of your attention as it clocks in at about an hour. But, the nuances and deviations from prior albums will keep you guessing and coming back. This is one worth embracing, if only because their sphere of influence continues to expand and grow, when plenty of artists at their level would - justifiably - retract.

The house that The National built got a bit of a facelift, and I Am Easy to Find has only increased its value.

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I Am Easy to Find drops tomorrow (May 17) on 4AD and the film can be streamed here (highly recommend). Watch the video for “Light Years” below and see them perform at The Greek Theatre, September 2.