The National have been making music for about 20 years, and, while their style has developed over those two decades — becoming more ornate, with electronics adding layers of malaise — the sad ex-Brooklynites have a reputation for being ‘consistent,’ meaning they shy away from big changes. I Am Easy to Find, an hour-long, 16-track sprawl of ennui and hope, usurps that reputation, and finds the band making significant changes to their familiar aesthetic. Here, they are at their least controlling, their least fussy. A bevy of female vocalists lend their voices like an empyrean choir, swooning and swirling and taking the spotlight on a good number of songs, and producer Mike Mills was reportedly liberal with his edits, keeping the album from becoming cumbrous (there are 77 credited features); and yet this is, like every other National album, first and foremost a showcase for the eloquent grousing of singer Matt Beringer, who has been likened to a hipster (remember that pejorative?) Leonard Cohen, with his dexterous, often despondent writing, the musings of a crestfallen griot in a bespoke suit. Beringer, now 48, gazes back at halcyon days while wondering what the future holds for him.
A mid-tempo mania pervades the album, a feeling of woebegone momentum, like an anxious mind berating itself.
A sense of transience suffuses I Am Easy to Find, with repeated mentions of fleeting moments, rapid changes, traipsing through the past as if it were a field of gardenias. “I used to fall asleep to you talking to me / I don’t listen to anything now,” Beringer croons in his familiar baritone on “Quiet Light.” On “Hairpin Turns,” he sings, “I like the old way I thought / I was hanging in there / You held back the worst rain / From my shoulders then.” At times the album can feel redundant — that reputation of ‘consistency’ rearing its ugly head — but I Am Easy to Find is also gentle, reposeful, assiduously produced, the lyrics contemplative without being pretentious. A mid-tempo mania pervades the album, a feeling of woebegone momentum, like an anxious mind berating itself. “I can’t slow down and I can’t stand it,” Beringer sings on the album’s seven-minute, stream-of-conscious centerpiece, “Not in Kansas,” on which the singer-songwriter ponders his own inability to stand up to the alt-right that has hegemonized his hometown of Cincinnati. “If the sadness of life makes you tired,” an angelic choir coos, “And the failures of man make you sigh / You can look to the time soon arriving / When this noble experiment / Winds down and calls it a day.” The song, devoid of Bryan Devendorf’s usual intricate percussion, is sparse, lithe, elegant. Compare this gentleness to 2017’s fidgety, glitchy Sleep Well Beast, and notions of consistency and stagnation seem to slip away.