After 20 years as a fixture of the musical landscape, you might be tempted to take The National for granted. It’s right there in the title of their eighth album, 2019’s I Am Easy to Find: the band has spent the whole of the 21st century as a lighthouse on the shores, singer Matt Berninger's reassuring baritone a beam warding off two decades of would-be emotional shipwrecks. Their songs have soundtracked countless films — and even a presidency, when their “Fake Empire” became the unlikely theme song for Barack Obama’s first campaign. When you need that distinctive blend of post-punk melancholy and indie-rock uplift, you know exactly where to look.
Look again, though, and you’ll see The National of today isn't the same band that crafted the meticulous anthems that made 2007’s Boxer such a knock-out, let alone the one that channelled offbeat Americana on 2003’s Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers. Nothing ever really stays the same, something a group that traffics in songs of heartbreak and regret knows all too well. The National has spent the last half of the 2010s reinventing itself, first with 2017’s restless Sleep Well Beast, and again even more dramatically on I Am Easy to Find. Their songs sprawl out, open-ended, intricate and unpredictable, fleshed out by a collective of over 70 musicians. Even their most distinctive element, Berninger's instantly recognizable croon, is far less front-and-centre, sharing the stage with more than half a dozen guest vocalists.
It's not just a shift in sound, but a change in mindset, the new voices adding a new-found vulnerability and openness to their approach. Once The National was a beacon on the shore, guiding you through the waves. Now they’re in the water with you. Of course, they're easy to find — they’re right here with you.
Biography by Peter Hemminger