Album review: The National, Trouble Will Find Me (4AD)
Album of the Week: Alt-rock's lurkers cement a stealthy rise to success
Slowly but surely, Brooklyn quintet The National have developed over a decade from modest alt.country beginnings to the point where they can draw 10,000 fans to an Obama rally. That they have retained serious artistic credibility while doing so – they recently played the same song for six hours as part of an artwork, and The Kronos Quartet has commissioned an album of guitarist Bryce Dessner's compositions – speaks volumes about the virtues of their approach.
The warm but haunting Trouble Will Find Me will surely cement their accession to the rock mainstream. It's both the most personal, and most melodically welcoming, of their albums, its subtle, multi-layered arrangements seeming to hover weightlessly while Matt Berninger's lyrics drill into emotionally troubling territory. The characters in the songs seem rather English in their quiet desperation, particularly conveyed in Berninger's sombre baritone. “I'm having trouble inside my skin, I'm trying to keep my skeleton in,” sings the protagonist of “Slipped”; while the repeated invocation “You should know me better than that” in “I Should Live in Salt” is like someone gently picking at an emotional scab of regret. The restrained self-assessment in “Demons” – “I'm going through an awkward phase” – could apply to virtually all these mini-psychodramas.
But whatever the emotional trauma, the tone never slips into hysteria, even when the drummer Bryan Devendorf is powering “Humiliation” along with a crunching Neu! motorik. And there's an engrossing diffidence about the Dessner twins' guitars, their riffs knitted from delicate, cycling arpeggios layered with wisps and smears of guitar noise. Sometimes the momentum builds like Arcade Fire, but more often the music surrounds the song like a shell, akin to the emotional carapace depicted in “Fireproof”. These are songs which acknowledge how the lurking power of feelings can just as readily numb, or stun, as drive one to paroxysms of cathartic emoting, and that the quiet ones are often the ones to watch out for.
Download: Pink Rabbits; I Should Live in Salt; Fireproof; Humiliation
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
New era of cheap oil 'will destroy green revolution'
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Ukip founder Alan Sked and Nigel Farage 'begged Enoch Powell to stand as a candidate'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant