I have a weird relationship with the music of The National. Most of the music grips me in places I don’t want to be touched, yet I listen over and over again, letting it not only touch me but embrace me, pull me in close and whisper in my ear. Sometimes it’s ok and I get a certain comfort from it, like somebody sitting quietly next to you, just handing you tissues as you mourn a loss. But sometimes it pushes a button and takes me to a floor I didn’t want to get off on. And I stay there. I stay on that floor with that music, with that awkward arm around me, with emotions that flood my heart and my eyes and I revel in it.
There are some albums more than others that force these feelings upon me. Boxer and Alligator both have the ability to set me on a path that usually ends in tears and a feeling like having your soul poked with a stick repeatedly.
And here is Trouble Will Find Me, an album that took just one listen to surpass both Boxer and Alligator in terms of emotions felt and fists squeezed around my heart.
Make no mistake, it’s not simply a case of lyrics hitting home. No, there’s so much more to the National and especially to Trouble Will Find Me than that. It’s in the tone, in Matt Berninger’s beautiful baritone, in the presentation and arrangement. It’s all put together in carefully constructed layers; a cake made of ingredients you find in your brain at 3am. All this beauty and sadness, all the poignancy and melancholy, crafted so precisely, so perfectly layered you can barely tell one piece of the cake from another, you just devour it without knowing which parts are which and you taste everything at once. You’re smiling, you’re crying, your heart is soaring, your heart is breaking, you want to turn off the record and never listen again and you want to listen to nothing but this forever.
So you listen. And your heart goes one way while your brain goes another. There’s a tug of war between your rational self and your emotional self, part of you just wanting to enjoy the intricate melodies, the lullaby lilt of Berninger’s singing and part of you wanting to just find someone to cling on to and hold tight while you weep and sigh and love and rage.
The best thing about Trouble Will Find Me is the best thing about most of The National’s music; each song is immediately familiar and known, a friend you didn’t know you even had until it knocked on your door and let itself into your world. You pour it a cup of tea and sit there talking about love and loss and fear and anger like you’ve been friends forever. In a way you have. Trouble Will Find Me is a culmination of all your inner thoughts and emotions come to life. That friend you’re having tea with, that song you let into your house and heart is just really a piece of you. The National are best at being familiar, at turning a mirror on you while you listen to their music so you’re never listening alone, there’s always your Demons to hang out with, there’s always the trouble that will find you, knock on your door in the form of album full of salt for your wounds and then offer you a salve for the sting.
If you are your own best friend and your own worst enemy, Trouble Will Find Me is a manifestation of self, something to listen to alone - which is really the way to listen to all of their albums. But you’re never really alone. You share this one with your demons, with your hidden skeletons, with all those 3am ghosts that hover around your bed. And you don’t mind. You don’t mind them coming out because my god, the music is beautiful and heartbreaking, music that needs to be shared, even if it’s with just the other parts of yourself that understand how a simple set of notes strung together can make you feel so much.
I’ve tried to foist The National on others to no avail. Maybe they don’t hear what I do. Maybe they don’t listen for it. Perhaps The National is one of those bands that you have to have a certain mindset to get. To someone else, maybe all the songs sound the same, maybe in a perfect world that voice and these arrangements and the low key cadence shouldn’t work. Maybe if you live in a world that has its share of cracks and sharp edges you can hear it. You can hear it in “I Should Live in Salt” and “Sea of Love” and you can feel it in “Slipped” and “This is the Last Time.” In a perfect world a band like this couldn’t pull off six albums of sounding exactly like the other albums, but in a perfect world we don’t need the comfort of songs that sound like old friends to sit with us while we mourn. In a perfect world, everything sounds like a pop song played on a car stereo on a hot summer evening, but this is not a perfect world and sometimes things need to sound like this, like the world is cracked and peeling and falling apart and the only thing that holds it together is knowing you’re not alone. So you slow dance with your demons and skeletons and ghosts while you listen to Trouble Will Find Me, knowing your cracked world is, in a way, perfect for you and whoever else finds their heart in these songs.