DISCLAIMER: Readers, a bold claim is about to be made. The National’s Trouble Will Find Me could, quite possibly, be as essential as air. Tread carefully, the sheer force of the overwhelmingly mournful nature of this album may surprise you with its taciturn but fitting attempts of disbelieving optimism. Happiness is not The National’s forte, but tussling with overbearing emotions is.
Singer Matt Berninger’s trademark gloomy lyrics delivered in his unmistakable baritone voice haven’t lost the ability to simultaneously punch you in the stomach while offering you a shoulder to cry on. Where 2010’s High Violet left you picking up the pieces of fractured relationships and the sudden responsibilities that middle age brings, Trouble Will Find Me instead brings you further into the ether, accepting that you've gone as low as you can but you’re sure as hell going to find out what it’s all about while you’re there.
Trying to find a glitch in The National’s output is a struggle. The unabashed rage and regretfulness of “Mr November” and the thoughtful simplicity of “Fake Empire” all have their place, and every album seems to flawlessly lead up to the next one. Trouble Will Find Me not only continues this trend, but delves even further into melancholy in a way that it seems only The National can.
Streets, houses, city skylines; bricks and mortar probably carry more emotional significance for people than the person they’re thinking of. Every city is crammed with streets where first dates began, where proposals were made, where painful break-ups blight restaurants and street corners. This theory isn’t neglected by The National, imagery of cities and the memories they conceal make their way into a sizeable chunk of the songs here.
The achingly beautiful “Slipped” embraces the notion of attachment between city and person. Berninger begins the song lamenting “I’m in the city you hated/My eyes are falling”, almost sounding apologetic before seemingly relishing being where “everything slipped”, adamant that he will not “spill my guts out”. It captures the wide-eyed moment when you realise a relationship has fallen apart but still can’t quite comprehend it. That strange curiousity to see where everything fell apart, to make sure that it really happened, is woven into this song.
“I Need My Girl” calls for redemption, battling between positive attributes declaring “I am good/I am grounded”, convincing nobody in particular, before ruefully admitting “I need my girl”. It’s like listening to a frisson of emotions that don’t know how to react to each other.
Closing track “Hard To Find” is a song where everything blends together perfectly. Every note, every chord, every ascending and descending vocal fits so perfectly that the song would be incomplete without them. The vocals are slightly lighter, sounding less burdened than earlier in the album, but with the sorrow-tinged sound The National are known for.
Claiming that Trouble Will Find Me is as essential as air could be viewed as overly enthusiastic, perhaps even overdramatic, but to hear an album that wallows so openly in the often forgotten and underappreciated intrinsic beauty of sadness is a rarity. Everything makes sense, every gloomy bass line and hushed vocal has an essential purpose. Trouble Will Find Me is a masterclass in conveying the most palpable of emotions in a sea of music notes, with each song taking on a different meaning after each listen. It’s a musician’s album. It’s a music fan’s album. It’s an album that only The National could make, and it is unquestionably their best yet.