You sense that Trouble Will Find Me is a direct reaction to the success of The National’s previous album High Violet, where Matt Berninger’s personal demons became a rallying point, and – whisper it quietly – a clarion call for the lonely, self-doubting, confused masses of the indie-rock crossover fanbase that the band had acquired over the course of their previous critically acclaimed albums. They teetered on the brink of an unlikely crossover into the realms of stadium rock. Trouble Will Find Me is a band stepping back from that crossover into the mainstream, at least artistically. Commercially, their star is sure to keep rising.
This is a much darker record than its predecessor, those almost-pop edges of Bloodbuzz Ohio and Anyone’s Ghost are hardly anywhere to be seen. The lyrics are doom-laden, and if you read them from the liner notes without the music to back them, they appear to be a man on the edge – “I wish I could rise above it, but I stay down with my demons” on Demons or “I’m having trouble inside my skin, I’ll try to keep my skeletons in” on Graceless – laying himself completely wide open – and they’re delivered with Berninger’s almost monotone baritone, which just adds to that feeling of impending dissolution.
The music is more downbeat and understated than on previous National albums as well, creating a blanket around the stories Matt is telling, like a protective shield of his friends throwing their arms around him to help hold him together. Gone are those uplifting flourishes that drew so many people into High Violet, this is dark, melancholic and fearful.
It’s difficult to engage with the songs and take them out of the realm of a man coming clean and emptying his soul to music. You cannot create an atmosphere and a mood that this record has intentionally, it has to come from the heart, and a battered and bruised one at that. The distance that the stories being told create between artist and listener actually makes it the darkest yet most compelling and absorbing album the band have ever made.
All words by David Brown. You can see more of David’s work on Louder Than War here