Saturday, May 25, 2013

You said it would be painless. It wasn't that at all.

Internet, what do you do when you're underwhelmed by one of your favorite band's new records?

I've listened to Trouble Will Find Me in its entirety twice. The first time I was incredibly underwhelmed but then again, I need to listen to music by myself with headphones on to really fall in love. Since buying it on Tuesday, I've listened to parts of it (I really think the first half of the record is strong, especially "I Should Live In Salt" and "Demons") and upon finishing a second listen, it's not as disappointing as I initially thought. Sure, it's not incredibly dynamic musically, and I think it's Matt Berninger's weakest records lyrically but it's pretty good. I am not blown away. Yet.

I think I can remember feeling this way about High Violet. The first few listens were met with a shrug but it was also released at the height of my love for The National (I saw them three times on their High Violet tour, and thanks to internet streams, watched a lot of their performances) so I kept trying. I was determined to love that record. And I did. I still listen to it. But this time around, I'm a lot less inclined to keep trying. And it makes me feel like a stick in the mud. Because everyone else LOVES it. Because the band is at the height of its popularity and Trouble Will Find Me is going to sell a boatload of records. Because my best friend clearly loves it already. I don't want to seem like I'm being contrary for the sake of being contrary. I've liked a lot of popular records in my day (see my top five from 2012, for example). The problem is that I think I have to retrain myself in how to listen to The National.

Does this make any sense to you?

I've been thinking about why I love The National. What is it about them that makes them one of my top five favorite bands? It's a mix of the urgency in the music and the no-holds-barred, not holding anything back, heart-on-his-sleeve lyrics. Matt Berninger's words always painted a picture of a man who was a mess but had enough charm for me to understand why someone would put him in a chair, fuck him, and make him a drink. I loved the anthemic quality of "Terrible Love" and "Fake Empire" and "England." I wanted to see Matt Berninger lose his shit on stage.

Trouble Will Find Me isn't anthemic at all (immediate? visceral? what was Aaron Dessner talking about?). There are some intricacies in the music, that's for sure but I want these songs to build and they don't. And they don't sneak up on you the way the tracks on Muchacho do. (At least not yet.) The problem is they all feel like they're going to build but they just crash and burn. I need a track or two to break up the musical monotony. Every song has the same mood (it's even worse than Boxer). It's not boring per say, I just need a mood changer or two. I need that "Squalor Victoria" or that "Brainy." And lyrically, this is a different National. I wondered if they had anything else to sing about (they seem pretty content in life) and after listening to the record, I'm not sure of the answer to that. I know this is a terrible reference but I keep thinking about the Pitchfork review of the latest Avett Brother record. I'm paraphrasing but they said something about how at this point in the band's lives, why would fans expect them to write a song like "Talk on Indolence" or "Paranoia in Bb Major?" And that's fine; you want your musicians to grow, right? And you want them to do well. And you can't fault them finding success and getting their shit together. But at this point in my life maybe I can't relate to five straight white dudes in or approaching their forties. I'm not saying you have to relate to musicians and their situations to enjoy their music but as music is so personal (for both the creators and the listeners), it certainly helps. Ask those Taylor Swift fans.

(Side Note: I'm over hating Taylor Swift. Do your thing, girl.)

Or this is all a consequence of listening to the extremely dynamic, incredibly anthemic, and the kings of no-holds-barred, not holding anything back, heart-on-their-sleeves lyrics, Frightened Rabbit. They do exactly what I want The National to do, just with more brogue.

Look, I'm not writing the record off yet. Maybe the songs come off better live? (I'll find out in about ten days.) Maybe they just have to grow on me. Maybe, come December, it'll end up on my list of my favorite records of the year.

Know which records I am loving this week? Jim James' Regions of Light and Sounds of God (is there a cooler, more talented, harder working man in music than Jim James? and a better voice?) and Majical Cloudz's Imposter. Devon Walsh's voice is magnificent, his lyrics are so strong, and it's minimalism done perfectly. Again, I'm referencing Pitchfork but I couldn't help but beam while reading the review of that record this week. Yes, it is gorgeous.

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