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AP.net Roundtable: The National - "Trouble Will...

Posted by: Drew Beringer (07/19/13)
We're introducing yet another new editorial feature on the site today and it's one we're all really excited about. Presenting the AP.net Roundtable - an article revolving around a much-anticipated album and the discussion it inspires amongst a handful of staff members. The first roundtable article features Ryan Dennehy, Jake Jenkins, Jason Tate, Craig Manning, Kelly Doherty, Kyle Huntington, and myself discussing The National's latest release, Trouble Will Find Me. Throughout the discussion we touched on favorite songs, themes, and lyrics while also trying to predict what the future holds for the band. It's a very interesting read and something we're going to try to do one or two times a month. So grab your copy of Trouble, put the needle down, and check out the debut AP.net Roundtable discussion in the replies.
        
 
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05:44 AM on 07/19/13
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Drew Beringer
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AbsolutePunk.net Roundtable: The National - Trouble Will Find Me

Ryan Dennehy: So right off the bat, I'd like to say that this is probably my least favorite record from The National since they released Alligator. It's still an excellent release, but I just find myself less engrossed by it than I am on the other records. Matt's voice is at the same peak we left it at in 2010, if not better, and the band plays as well as ever; so I guess my real qualm with the record comes from the lyrics and their content. Matt's always had such a tight grasp of what it's like to be a high-strung middle class man riddled with anxiety, that maybe he - or I - has grown apart from those characters ever so slightly. His lyrics, always obtuse and puzzling, with sudden bursts of incisive anxiety (think "Karen") just don't connect as often for me this time around. Lines about bubbles ("Don't Swallow the Cap") and any number of short one-liners just fall flat for me. But then some of the most powerful writing he's ever done, like the imagery of becoming fallow and empty in the opener, or basically every part of "Demons," leaves me as breathless as ever, suffering from something just shy of a panic attack. "Don't Swallow the Cap" still ranks among my favorites on the record, probably because of that couplet about "careful dread/dead devotion," but I've seen a lot of people on the forums say it's their least favorite song from the record. I don't know; has anyone else had a similar problem? I feel like a lot of the focus on Matt's lyrics might distract from the band, but it seems inevitable, and I always have the sense that any thing he says might be fawned over just because it's him.

Jake Jenkins: It's funny, for the longest time I was set on High Violet being their best, but just recently my views on their discography have changed and I consider High Violet to be their third best. That was, until, this album came around and switched things up. After two months now (wow, this year is flying by), this sits in front of High Violet for me and still slightly below Boxer and Alligator (which is my favorite). This album I think is a pretty healthy mix between the flourishes of High Violet and the more straight-forward approach (sonically) of Boxer. It's still distinctly its own sound, and I think the album art's colors really represent the tone of the album. It's real dreary and downright sad, and while all of their albums have been, I think this one just feels more down, if that makes sense. As you said Ryan, sometimes Matt's lyrics take away from the band and it's a shame because when you dissect the music behind him, there are some really interesting and beautiful leads and rhythms taking place (the drumming on this album in particular is stellar). I think "Don't Swallow The Cap" is a great song, but probably not among my absolute favorites here. His more straightforward lines really hit home on the song ("Everything I love is on the table/Everything I love is out to sea/I'm not alone/I'll never be"). I also really, really like the Let It Be and Nevermind references. There are quite a few references to other artists and works on this album that are fun to pick out.


Jason Tate: Ryan comes out swinging right in the first sentence; love that. I think that I'm more in the camp that would say High Violet is my favorite album they've done, but that Alligator is their best album. I think that the new album is more of a mix between their best and my favorite, but I haven't connected with it on an emotional level quite yet. I'm going to go ahead and blame the weather for that - The National have always been a fall/winter band for me, and by the end of the year there's a damn good chance that my feelings on this album will have changed. From a lyrical standpoint, I think that Matt's always had a way of saying things that aren't what one may consider "classically great" lines, but that are intentionally open to reader interpretation. I've always felt he's been a metaphorically gifted writer - and that continues in this album. I do think he's now suffering from a case of lyrical over-hype (can I just make up phrases?), in that everyone is expecting a level of constant greatness that is probably unattainable. However, there are moments of pure poetry on this album that I really do think are worthy of praise and stand out to me:

"You were standin' in the street 'cause you were tryin' not to crack up. It wasn't like a rain it was more like a sea. I didn't ask for this pain it just came over me. I love a storm, but I don't love lightning."

"God loves everybody, don't remind me."

"Do not know what's wrong with me, Sours in the cup. When I walk into a room, I do not light it up. Fuck."

I love the style he writes with. I love the confidence.

Craig Manning: Well it looks like I’m going to be that guy for this discussion: Trouble Will Find Me is the best album these guys have ever released. It’s easily more consistent than High Violet, and for the most part, I think it’s more compelling from a musical standpoint than Boxer. In one of our earlier discussions, Ryan mentioned how this band has slowly and quietly become a hugely acclaimed favorite around these parts over the past few years. That’s definitely true. Ever since High Violet hit, I don’t think I’ve been able to go into the forums without encountering at least one fanboy ready to call the National “the best band making music today,” but Trouble Will Find Me is really the first time where I’ve felt like that claim is justified. There’s just this really beautiful and unique ebb and flow to these songs that almost no other band out there right now could successfully pull off.

For me, Boxer has always sort of faltered after the immense promise of opener “Fake Empire,” while High Violet gets off to a shaky start because the band decided to use the demo version of “Terrible Love” and it really doesn’t fit sonically. The opening trio on Trouble Will Find Me, on the other hand, is exactly the way this band should be kicking off their records. I particularly love “I Should Live in Salt,” which plays up the band’s touted R.E.M. influence in a big way for the first time. That song legitimately sounds like an outtake from Automatic for the People, and it sets the mood for the album - dangerously dark, crushingly sad, dizzyingly wistful - perfectly. “I should live in salt for leaving you behind.” It’s such a simple line, but the way Matt delivers it is devastating. The other guys have spent a fair amount of time dissecting Matt’s lyrics here and have hinted that, from a lyrical standpoint, this is one of the weaker releases in the National catalog. That may well be true, but while I really do enjoy Matt’s cryptic, stream-of-consciousness writing (and the fact that, really, no one else could write a lot of what he writes), the lines that have always hit me the hardest from him - “Let’s not try to figure out everything at once” from “Fake Empire,” or “I never thought about love when I thought about home” from “Bloodbuzz Ohio” - are straightforward, simple, and accessible. “I Should Live in Salt” - and much of Trouble Will Find Me - fits into that categorization, and maybe that’s why I adore it so much.

From there, the album is just a beautiful journey. The peak is definitely at the end - the last four tracks are bulletproof - but in between, we get everything this band does well, from the sustained crescendo of “Sea of Love” and “Graceless” to the booming calm of Matt’s gorgeous baritone on “Demons” and “Don’t Swallow the Cap.” Even the stuff that could qualify as filler - the swampy “This Is the Last Time” or the dreamy “Heavenfaced,” for instance - has its place here and adds something essential to the album’s slow-burning, meandering flow.



Kelly Doherty: I'm going to agree wholeheartedly with Jake's ranking of The National's back catalogue. Whilst High Violet was quite a beautiful album, I believe Trouble Will Find Me blows it out of the water. Never has Matt sounded so at the peak of his vocal talents, never has the band sounded so comfortable in who they are. Trouble Will Find Me perfectly combines the rawer elements of Alligator and Boxer with the delicate arrangements and grand touches of High Violet and for that reason I think this record is probably provides us with the rawest sense of who The National are as a band.

This may be a minority view, however I personally find the lyrics on this record to be some of the strongest the band has written. Tracks like "Pink Rabbits" and "Don't Swallow The Cap" are both emotive and aesthetically pleasing. Where I found the band's lyrics to be a little too vague previously, this time round they've provided us with lyrics that are so easy to relate with and are so human that it's impossible to not fall in love with that voice that's singing them. I mean, just look at some of the lyrics that Jason quoted, how many bands or artists around today have the talent to write lyrics that are so damn good.

Aside from lyrics, the musicianship is so much better than before. Whilst the grandness of High Violet was pleasing, I always felt like it established a barrier between listeners and the album. Rawer, yet poppier, tracks such as "Don't Swallow The Cap" and "Demons" just feel so much easier to connect with than the likes of "Terrible Love" and "Sorrow" and I think the toned down production is the main reason for that. Whilst The National were always one of my favourite bands, with Trouble Will Find Me they've pushed themselves way ahead of the rest of the crowd.

Kyle Huntington: The beauty of hearing almost everybody's thoughts on this as I construct my own is that I get to cherry pick and agree with everyone on various points. Whilst this may not be the best National record in terms of lyricism, delivery and that raw...je ne sais quoi it is without a doubt the most streamline and lush sounding record of theirs to date. Many could argue that is a negative in terms of their previous work and the sounds we hear on the likes of Alligator, but I think it's just a seamless evolution and if anything should be applauded. It's rare to be so consistent whilst constantly evolving over this many albums in any band's career, in fact it's almost unheard of nowadays without any glaring dips in the quality of output or, arguably even worse, remaining in a rut. There are definitely a couple of tracks on here that I listen to a lot less than others ("Heavenfaced", "Slipped") but the beauty, as everyone knows, of an album by The National is that in a few months time, they could be your new favourites.

As Jason said, I think Matt is expected to deliver on his lyrics to such a point that if there is anything that is more straight-forward, it can be seen as weak material from him, whereas I'd have to argue that sometimes getting a point across without dressing something up can often be more startling and end up resonating just as well, if not more. Granted, I get that the beauty of Matt's lyrics in the past has been the descriptive nature (something which is expected of him for the right reasons and it's something I adore as well) but I wasn't left as disappointed by the words in this album as a lot of people seemed to be. It just felt like the approach fitted the general tone of the album, like Jake said, of being a more "down" or "low" and the moments that left some people wanting more or even cringing at points, just felt like they matched the air of "fuckin' whatever...this is how it is" for me. I know that could also be seen as lazy to some...but it just clicked and worked as a unit for me. There are definite moments of "oh, come on...you could have done better than that!" throughout, but again, I didn't find that as much as a lot of other longtime fans. In terms of things beyond the lyrics, the music is superb and a great combination of all of their work so far, Matt's lower register is at it's best. He manages to make it feel like he's soothing your own throat with how thick and honey-like it is. One thing I can never get away from (despite it also being a favourite on the record) is how the intro to "Don't Swallow The Cap" reminds me SO much of "7/4 Shoreline" by Broken Social Scene. As for favourite points on the album, I also love the referential moments to other artists, albums or songs. The end of "Humiliation" as the song changes into "Blue Velvet" with that snappy, stumbling snare that introduces the moment is such a highlight for me.


Drew Beringer: While fans will argue where to rank Trouble Will Find Me in the band’s discography and if it’s the band’s best work or not, I think a lot of us can agree that this LP is The National’s most essential album. Personally, if someone asked me which National record they should listen to first, I’m going to recommend Trouble Will Find Me ten out of ten times. The album’s thirteen tracks feature all the band’s best musical qualities and Berninger is still on top of the lyrical game. I also really appreciate the subtlety and self-awareness throughout. Does this necessary mean that Trouble Will Find Me is my favorite National record? That’s to be determined still (similar to Jason I react much more stronger to a National record when the weather is a little brisker, a little rougher). But with songs like the anti-ballad “This Is The Last Time” and anthemic “Graceless” (which has one of the best bridges the band has ever written), it’s easy to see why this is my second favorite record of 2013 thus far. My favorite moment on the album is “I Need My Girl” - the nervous urgency throughout disguises what’s really a love song at the core. It’s a prime example of the brilliant balancing act Berninger pulls off by sounding absolutely confident one second and completely unraveled the next and that’s what makes Trouble Will Find Me so enthralling.

RD: So it seems I'm definitely alone on my opinion of this record, but I think I'd have to agree with Drew. What with this being their most polished record featuring some of the most immediate lyrics, I would have to recommend this as a starting point for newbies. This is by far their most accessible record, the one that will probably serve as a primer for many of the bands future fans. It's already brought several of our own staff into the fold, and I'm honestly surprised at how quickly you all took to it, and with such abandon. The term "grower" has been bandied about since before I even had heard of this band, and while it was never the case for me, I always assumed that's how everyone else experienced it.

The fact that so many people who had previously been hesitant have now been won over so fully is a testament to this band and this album’s gravity. It's inescapable, just like it always has been. It's just becoming more and more forceful as time goes on. There's apparently talk of The National winding down in the coming years, and I'm not sure how I feel about it. On the one hand, this is not their strongest effort, and I don't think it's an adequate closing chapter for the band. I think they're capable of more. But simultaneously, they've already proven to be among the highest reaches of indie rock, begging the question: where can they go from here? They're already so entrenched in this bourbon soaked, meandering sound that it's hard to imagine them truly going anywhere else, and if they did - where? Any more than a refinement of their sound would probably be jarring and uncomfortable after how well they've settled into this comfort zone. Maybe that's what my issue with the record is: it's excellent, as always, but feels like the band has slowly backed themselves into a corner by their own ability, and it sounds like the band knows it. Quite the conundrum, haha.



JJ: The "grower" thing definitely applies to me for this band. When I first heard High Violet I didn't really get it, and their other albums didn't do anything for me either. But I kept returning to HV and eventually it all just clicked. It was really just a matter of getting familiar and accustomed to their style, because even though their music may be more straightforward than a lot of other bands, they're not all that accessible. Although, I'll echo Drew and Ryan's comments about this being the essential The National album. Maybe it's just because I was already really familiar with them, but this record seems a lot more immediate than their others.

Also I gotta agree with the comments about fall/winter being the best time for this band. Especially with this album, I imagine a late night walk with some snow on the ground will be the best time to take in some of the more weighty lyrics. The album is, however, proving to be quite good for summer nights too. Really, I can listen to this band whenever, but I know the colder weather will only enhance it.

As for where they go next? Who knows? Matt kind of hinted they may be done as a band sooner rather than later, which I don't think I would have any sort of problem with. Trouble Will Find Me would make for a very good last album, and their entire discography is the kind of discography bands dream of having. Yeah, maybe Trouble Will Find Me is a 'safe' record, but if it were to be the end of the road it would make for a really good bowing out in my opinion. There's this feeling of finality throughout the album, of coming to terms with your situation; especially on the last two tracks where "Pink Rabbits" finds Matt recounting the past and finally on "Hard To Find" closing that chapter and moving on. It all just feels very fitting as a swan song to me.

JT: I have really been drawn into the "what now" part of this discussion. It's something I have been thinking about a lot recently - not just for The National - but for music in general. That point where we've gotten a few "staple" releases from a band (which from The National you want to put on that pedestal is up to you) and we start thinking about what they can do with their next releases to continue that path of greatness. If they release another album just like this one, are we as impressed? I'd argue no. For example, I love Iron & Wine, but I have been getting a feeling of "heard this one before" from some of their more recent releases and subsequently have liked them less. What I think The National have going for them is that they've shown the ability to differentiate their sound while remaining at the core "The National" - each release does sound refreshing upon first listen. I think that managing time and release of new material gets very important later on in a band's career. There's an art to pulling away and leaving the fans wanting more … I'm really curious to see where the band goes from here (artistically and popularity-wise), especially during this album cycle, as I'd much rather see them on all the talk shows and collecting awards than Mumford and Sons.



CM: I think the question of whether or not Trouble Will Find Me will serve as the band's swan song is an interesting one. On one hand, you have Ryan saying that it doesn't live up to the band's potential. On another, you have Jake pointing out that the album is a perfect summation of the band's story and that the last few songs would function very well as an ultimate coda if the band decided to hang it up after this. Then you have selfish bastards like me, and I'm not sure if there is such a thing as a "good" way for a group of people to stop making music together. Let me explain: as someone who is quite enthralled with a number of bands and artists who have been making music for 30, 40, 50 years, I often find myself engaged in conversations with people who say that so and so should retire because they're “past their prime,” or that a band should “go out on a high note” because doing so is more respectable than just making records for the love of making records. I think that's bullshit. I will happily follow a band 20 years past relevance and 30 years past their peak, and I could absolutely see myself doing that with the National.



What Jake said about this band being a “grower,” that's definitely been the case for me. Boxer initially did nothing for me beyond “Fake Empire,” and while High Violet made my top 10 or 15 back in 2010, it’s not a record I've gone back to as much as some of my other favorites from that year. But with Trouble Will Find Me, I feel like everything has just clicked. I can go back to those albums and see what all the fuss was about, or I can put this album on and watch the time just disappear while it’s playing. Night or day, summer or fall, buzzed or sober, these songs sound perfect. And I really can’t pick a favorite. “Pink Rabbits” just goes on and on and revolves and morphs, to the point where you feel like it might never end and you would be okay if it didn’t. “Humiliation” might be the best early morning driving song I’ve ever heard. And “Hard to Find” is as gorgeous a song as these guys have ever written: if the National DOES have to end, I would be okay with them going out on a song with a lyric like “I don't know why we had to lose/The ones who took so little space.” But as someone who has only just really realized how wonderful this band is, it would break my heart so see them call it quits now. I think they’ve still got stories left to tell.

KH: I'd also recommend this as a starter point for a new listener of the band. Not only because it's the most accessible but because as a few of us have said, it seems to incorporate elements from every stage of their career so far. So much so, that somebody listening for the first time could work backwards and pick out those elements in what I could imagine would be quite a blatant way. It's actually something I'm quite jealous of in a way, because I'd love to do that with this band as Trouble Will Find Me as a starting point.

Also agree with the seasonal comments, however it's also a great album to kick back with a few (many) drinks, some headphones and very little else. It doesn't matter if the sun is beating down and the nights are inescapably humid for me where this record is concerned, but that's probably just appealing to how frequently I can be a miserable bastard who enjoys my own company sometimes. It's one of those records that can be the perfect accompaniment to those kinds of nights or moods. I sincerely hope it's not their last, but can totally understand Jake and Jason's comments about "what now"? Not because they are in danger of churning out the same old, but because they are at a great peak in their career now, to a point where it seems that they have fulfilled almost everything they could, but then again...that's not for anybody except them to decide in the end.

photo by Charlotte Zoller © 2011

DB: Honestly, I haven’t thought much of the band’s future – I’m currently enjoying Trouble Will Find Me way too much to even bother with that – but since it was brought up I figured I could add a few points. I tend to agree with Jason the most – the band understands its strengths and its core, but they have the ability and panache to pull off different styles and all the variations they entail. They are always exploring with different time signatures, guitar usage (remember that video on Fallon where I believe Aaron Dessner was hitting the bottom of the guitar against the floor to create some weird reverb?), and tempos. To me, The National has never sounded “samey”; they’re always doing something interesting and new within its music. So I don’t think this is the peak for them and I know they are the type of rock band that can meet and exceed any challenge presented towards them. Plus I’d love to see Berninger dive into this sudden success of the band and all that – I love the perspective he brings to a lot of situations and themes and I’ve never been bored by any of his writing. If they do call it quits, is this a suitable enough album for them to go out on? Of course. If anything, I can see the band taking a short hiatus to focus on other projects. But even if the band dissembles, each member would begin some other project that’ll be exemplary.

But back to Trouble – it doesn’t ultimately matter where you rank this album in the band’s discography because the band’s last four releases have all been A-material. You can rank them in any order and I’d say, “yeah I can see why you like this over this.” For me, whichever National album I’m listening to at the time is usually my favorite at the moment. Seriously, it doesn’t matter whether you like High Violet more than Alligator or vice versa because each National album is so damn good. Trouble Will Find Me is just another feather in The National’s cap as the band continues to be one of the most important bands in music today.



'Trouble Will Find Me', The National's sixth full-length album, was releasing on May 21st, 2013 and debuted at #3 on the Billboard Top 100 with nearly 75k copies sold. The band is currently on a massive North American tour. You can follow them on Facebook and Twitter.
05:48 AM on 07/19/13
#3
Jeff_Ryan
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I've never bothered "ranking" an artist's/band's albums and I'm not going to start now but I love this album more than I can put into words. Thinking about my last.fm charts, I don't think there's been a week since this leaked that The National hasn't been one of my top artists. It was interesting to read all of your opinions on it
05:54 AM on 07/19/13
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Jeff_Ryan
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Also as a side note, I hated their cover of "Learning" (Japanese bonus track) when I first heard it but it's kind of grown on me.
06:01 AM on 07/19/13
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Steve Alcala
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This was a great read and I agree on points that it is definitely a grower, for me. Definitely hope to see a lot more of these in the future
06:04 AM on 07/19/13
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get up kidd
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Just got into this band last year. I started with High Violet and went backwards to Boxer, then Aligator. I can honestly say that its impossible to rank the four records. Trouble Will Find Me is just as good as the other three.

On a side note, they killed at Bonnaroo!
06:07 AM on 07/19/13
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Steve Henderson
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I agree with Craig's assessment. Well said.
06:10 AM on 07/19/13
#8
Craig Manning
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Cool stuff, you guys, I'm pretty excited about this one. Hoping the roundtable stuff catches on, because I'd love to do more of it.
06:16 AM on 07/19/13
#9
Ryan Dennehy
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Really happy with how this turned out, looking forward to the next one
06:24 AM on 07/19/13
projectmayhem16
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Kelly, Craig, JT & JJ had the opinions I agree with the most. Drew's also spot on with this being the album one should listen to first, imo.
06:26 AM on 07/19/13
tottivillarossi
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I agree with Craig's assessment. Well said.
Yup. For me, Craig's probably the best writer working for this site.
06:43 AM on 07/19/13
COREhorizon
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Really love this album, even though it's the first album by the National I really listened to intimately and repeatedly. I also never thought I would ever have songs like this stuck in my head for this long.
06:51 AM on 07/19/13
Craig Manning
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Yup. For me, Craig's probably the best writer working for this site.
07:10 AM on 07/19/13
mka12992
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I really like this feature.
07:12 AM on 07/19/13
Steve_JustAGuy
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Awesome concept for an article and a great read. I love this band and agree with Jason 100% that I would rather see these guys winning awards than Mumford. Can't wait to catch them at Lollapalooza.
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