Posts Tagged ‘The National’

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The National return with I Am Easy To Find, there’s black vinyl, indies only clear vinyl 2xLP and deluxe 3xLP pressed on 3 different colours.
New black midi 12″ arrives on Rough Trade.
Brand new 12″ from Interpol.  Limited Dinked Edition of the new album from Black Peaches (featuring Rob Smoughton of Hot Chip). This version is pressed on teal vinyl with an exclusive 7″ and a signed print.
Third Man reissue the long out of print second album by The Raconteurs.
Institute return with Readjusting The Locks on bourbon coloured vinyl, via Sacred Bones.
slowthai unleashes his debut album, limited white vinyl pressing.
Two new David Bowie releases, Boys Keep Swinging 7″ picture disc and the nice Clareville Demos 7″ box set.
Excellent new compilation on Anthology, Sad About The Times, full of 70s psych jammers.

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The National –  I Am Easy to Find

I Am Easy To Find is the band’s eighth studio album and the follow-up to 2017’s Grammy®-award winning release Sleep Well Beast. A companion short film with the same name will also be released with music by The National and inspired by the album. The film was directed by Academy Award-nominated director Mike Mills (20th Century Women, Beginners), and starring Academy Award Winner Alicia Vikander. Mills, along with the band, is credited as co-producer of the album, which was mostly recorded at Long Pond, Hudson Valley, NY with additional sessions in Paris, Berlin, Cincinnati, Austin, Dublin, Brooklyn and more far flung locations. The album features vocal contributions from Sharon Van Etten, Brooklyn Youth Chorus, Lisa Hannigan, Mina Tindle and more.

As the album’s opening track, You Had Your Soul With You, unfurls, it’s so far, so National: a digitally manipulated guitar line, skittering drums, Matt Berninger’s familiar baritone, mounting tension. Then around the 2:15 mark, the true nature of I Am Easy To Find announces itself: The racket subsides, strings swell, and the voice of long-time David Bowie bandmate Gail Ann Dorsey booms out—not as background vocals, not as a hook, but to take over the song. Elsewhere it’s Irish singer-songwriter Lisa Hannigan, or Sharon Van Etten, or Mina Tindle or Kate Stables of This Is the Kit, or varying combinations of them. The Brooklyn Youth Choir, whom Bryce Dessner had worked with before. There are choral arrangements and strings on nearly every track, largely put together by Bryce in Paris—not a negation of the band’s dramatic tendencies, but a redistribution of them.

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Interpol – A Fine Mess

 

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Olden Yolk – Living Theatre

The musical duo of Shane Butler and Caity Shaffer released their debut album as Olden Yolk last year, an alluring concoction of hypnagogic folk and kosmiche rhythms, expanding and refining Butler’s work in his former band Quilt toward a more focused direction. Living Theatre is the follow up to that eponymous debut and more than lives up to its promise.

The songs on Living Theatre were written and recorded during a heavy time of transition and upheaval for the duo, with personal tragedies and a big move from their NYC home to a warmer climate in Los Angeles coloring the album’s inception. Thematically Living Theatre tunes seem to be about how humans react to the ways life is colored by both fate and the consequences of the conscious and unconscious decisions we make. Musically, the duo’s songwriting has gelled into a unified front, relying more on the subtle shifts of melody and rhythm than a barrage of chord changes; Living Theatre’s hooks lap at your feet like a babbling brook, rather than bowl you over like violent waves. The refinement in tunes like Castor and Pollux, Grand Palais and first single Cotton and Cane points to a new frontier for the group; soaring skyward toward the emotionally textural plateaus of trailblazers like The Go-Betweens or Yo La Tengo. There’s a discernible romantic feel to tunes like Violent Days or Distant Episode’s lush arrangements with Shaffer in particular finding her own voice here; poetic, abstract and expressive. Living Theatre showcases a band breaking free from it’s chrysalis, and embracing its next phase of evolution.

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Alex Lahey – The Best Of Club

On her sophomore LP, The Best of Luck Club, 26-year-old Melbourne, Australia native Alex Lahey navigates the pangs of generational ennui with the pint half-full and a spot cleared on the bar stool next to her. Self-doubt, burn out, break-ups, mental health, moving in with her girlfriend, vibrators: The Best of Luck Club showcases the universal language of Lahey’s sharp songwriting, her propensity for taking the minute details of the personal and flipping it public through anthemic pop-punk. Lahey’s 2017 debut I Love You Like a Brother encases Lahey’s knack for writing a killer hook and her acute sense of humor delivered via a slacker-rock package and, in a way, The Best of Luck Club picks up where that record left off. Lahey co-produced the album alongside acclaimed engineer and producer Catherine Marks (Local Natives, Wolf Alice, Manchester Orchestra), and dives headfirst into a broader spectrum of both emotion and sound through polished, arena pop-punk in the vein of Paramore with the introspective sheen of Alvvays or Tegan and Sara. Here, Lahey documents the highest highs and the lowest lows of her life to date. After a whirlwind of global touring in support of breakout debut I Love You Like a Brother, Lahey wrote the bulk of her follow-up in Nashville during 12-hour days of songwriting. There, she found the inspiration for The Best of Luck Club ís concept: the dive bar scene and its genuine energy.”Whether you’ve had the best day of your life or the worst day of your life, you can just sit up at the bar and turn to the person next to you – who has no idea who you are – and have a chat. And the response that you generally get at the end of the conversation is, ‘Best of luck, so The Best of Luck Club is that place.

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Lone Justice – Live At The Palomino 1983

Previously unissued live performance from October 22nd, 1983. Recorded at Los Angeles’ iconic Palomino club. New liners from the band’s Marvin Etzioni and Ryan Hedgecock. Located in North Hollywood, The Palomino hosted Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, Buck Owens, and many more classic country acts. Later, George Harrison, Elvis Costello, and Green Day played there. It was even featured in Every Which Way But Loose, Hooper, and even CHiPs. But, in the early ’80s, it was a haven for “cow-punk” acts like Lone Justice. Live At the Palomino, 1983 features 12 tracks from the early Lone Justice line-up consisting of Maria McKee, Ryan Hedgecock, Marvin Etzioni, and Don Willens. Songs from their yet to be issued debut are coupled with classic country covers, and songs which have appeared on various collections throughout the years – but never with this live power from this L.A. landmark. Packaging features photos and new notes from Etzioni and Hedgecock, and is issued with full cooperation from the band. Step back into the time when Lone Justice was the band to see, way out in the dusty valley. A timeless performance from a band that helped define a genre: Lone Justice – Live At The Palomino, 1983. They still are the light.

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The Doors – Stockholm ‘68

The Doors, live at Konserthuset, Stockholm on 20th September 1968 The Doors finally visited Europe in September 1968, playing to rapturous audiences in the UK, Germany, Holland, Denmark and Sweden. Many fans agree that they were at their peak on this tour, despite Jim Morrison’s condition being unpredictable from gig to gig. This release contains the final date of the tour, originally broadcast by Sveriges Radio. It includes rare performances of Mack The Knife, Love Street and You’re Lost Little Girl as well as familiar staples of their set, and is presented here together with background notes and images.

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Ronnie Lane – Just For A Moment: Music 1973-1997

This box includes Ronnie Lane’s 4 solo albums – Anymore For Anymore (and singles), Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance, One For the Road and the cruelly underrated See Me. In addition it features tracks from Ronnie’s Mahoney’s Last Standalbum with Ron Wood and Rough Mix with Pete Townshend. The final disc of the set focuses on Ronnie’s time in the US with live highlights and studio tracks never previously released. The set also featured lots of rare and unreleased material – be prepared to here fantastic cover versions of The Wanderer, Rocket’ 69and The Joint Is Jumpin’as well as unheard Ronnie compositions plus live recordings, tracks for the BBC and highlights from a legendary Rockpalast concert. The set is curated by long time musical associate of Ronnie’s, Slim Chancer musician Charlie Hart. Comprehensive sleevenotes focus on Ronnie the musician, the songwriter, the collaborator and split the post ’73 period into three distinct parts. Writers are Paolo Hewitt, Kris Needs and Kent Benjamin covering Ronnie’s Austin years.

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Traffic – The Studio Albums 1967-74

50 years after Steve Winwood jumped ship from chart toppers The Spencer Davis Group and quit the bright lights in favour of the countryside and jam sessions with Jim Capaldi, Dave Mason and Chris Wood we celebrate Traffic’s influential legacy with this stunning limited edition Island records studio collection. Boasting all 6 studio albums recorded for the label remastered from the original tapes and presented in their original and highly collectible ‘first’ Island pressing form (gatefold sleeves, pink eye labels etc), the set also includes a related and super rare facsimile promo poster for each album.

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David Bowie – Clareville Grove Demos

Following on from Spying Through A Keyhole, in early 1969 at his flat in Clareville Grove, London, David Bowie with John ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson continued to demo Space Oddity and other tracks. This live demo tape session is released as a 7″ vinyl singles box set of six home demos, four of which are previously unreleased recordings. As with the Spying Through A Keyhole vinyl singles box set, the design of each single label is presented to reflect the way David sent many of his demos to publishers and record companies, featuring his own handwritten song titles on EMIDISC acetate labels with cover and print photos by David’s then manager Ken Pitt taken in the Clareville Grove flat. The singles themselves are all mono and play at 45 r.p.m. Due to the nature of some of the solo home demos where Bowie accompanied himself on acoustic guitar, the recording quality isn’t always of a usual studio fidelity. This is partly due to David’s enthusiastic strumming hitting the red on a couple of the tracks, along with the limitations of the original recording equipment and tape degradation. However, the historical importance of these songs and the fact that the selections are from an archive of tracks cleared for release by Bowie, overrides this shortcoming.

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David Bowie – Boys Keep Swinging

2019 is the 40th anniversary of Lodger and first comes the latest limited 7″ picture disc from Parlophone, Boys Keep Swinging.

While originally recording the song, Bowie had hoped to capture a garage band feel with the musicians swapping instruments after a deck of Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies cards had suggested ‘reverse roles’. So guitarist Carlos Alomar played drums and drummer Dennis Davis played bass.

The version featured on the A side is the 2017 mix by Tony Visconti from Lodger, undertaken for the A New Career In A New Townbox set, as both Tony and Bowie felt they never had the opportunity to give Lodger the mix it deserved in 1979, due to time and studio constraints.

The AA side features I Pray, Ole which was apparently recorded during the Lodger sessions, but remained unreleased until mixed by David and David Richards for inclusion as an extra track on the 1991 reissue of theLodger album. The track has been commercially unavailable since then.

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Working Mens Club – Bad Blood / Suburban Heights

Like a homage to smoke-filled vaults, aging billiard rooms and crumby packets of pork scratchings in the Working Men’s Clubs of days gone by, Todmorden-by-way of-Europe trio Syd, Jake and Giulia are about to fling open the doors of their own millennial social hub with the fresh post-punk of infectious debut single, Bad Blood / Suburban Heights. With the start-stop sound of Talking Heads, Gang of Four and Television,Bad Blood, fuses 70s post- punk with the stomp of Parquet Courts’ positivity and resonates with the start of the weekend...Syd’s half-spoken words jab through Strokes guitar lines with Mark E Smith drawl…it’s the feeling of a Saturday spent scuffing about in thrift stores and hanging out with friends.

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L’Epee – Dreams

This is the debut single release from L’Epee, the band are Emmaunelle Seigner (Ultra Orange and Emmanuelle), Anton Newcombe (The Brian Jonestown Massacre) and Lionel and Marie Liminana (The Liminanas). Recorded in Cabestany (France) and Berlin at Anton’s Cobra Studio, this three track 12” single comes in deluxe packaging and precedes the full length album released in June this year.

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The National have shared another song and video from their hugely anticipated new album “I Am Easy To Find” due out 17thMay via 4AD Records. The song, “Hairpin Turns,” features Gail Ann Dorsey and Lisa Hannigan, and the video was directed by Mike Mills, who also directed the new album’s accompanying short film. The video splices together performance footage by The National and guest singers Gail Ann Dorsey, Pauline de Lassus (Mina Tindle), and Kate Stables (This Is the Kit) with interpretive dance by Sharon Eyal. “The video is a very simple portrait of the band (and the friends who helped make the song) and the song itself: You see all the instruments that make up the song in isolation, even hear them recorded live on set over the album version, kind of like showing you the tracks that make up the song,” Mills said.

The National have also added an intimate NYC release show happening at iHeartRadio Theater (5/17) the day the album comes out, the whole thing will stream live at iHeartRadio’s YouTube channel on May 17th at 7 PM.

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Upon announcing their eighth studio album “I Am Easy To Find”, due out May 17th via 4AD Records, The National released its opening track, “You Had Your Soul With You” but next up is the album’s closer, “Light Years,” out now.

The Grammy-winning quintet’s new single arrives alongside a video featuring scenes from I Am Easy To Find’s short companion film of the same name, starring Oscar winner Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl), who also appears on the album’s cover art, and written and directed by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Mike Mills (20th Century Women).

“Light Years,” is a plaintive reflection on lost love structured around a deft, tumbling piano figure, follows a trend set by “You Had Your Soul With You,” which prominently features vocals from longtime David Bowie collaborator Gail Ann Dorsey, contrasted with those of frontman Matt Berninger the album to which these songs introduce us hinges on this dynamic. Sharon Van Etten, Brooklyn Youth Chorus, Lisa Hannigan, Mina Tindle, Kate Stables (This Is the Kit) and others also sing across its 16 tracks, their points of view spanning I Am Easy To Find’s prismatic and expansive 68 minutes. This might be one of Matt Berninger’s most poetic odes to love and loss to date: “Oh, the glory of it all was lost on me/’Til I saw how hard it’d be to reach you/And I would always be light years, light years away from you.”

Mills, also credited as a co-producer on the album, had a major hand in its multidimensional direction. Bryce Dessner says of I Am Easy To Find, “It’s a movie about a woman, so shouldn’t there be women’s voices? We’re a band that’s been largely defined by the sound of one person’s voice where suddenly now we’re hearing others.” Berninger says, “Yes, there are a lot of women singing on this, but it wasn’t because, ‘Oh, let’s have more women’s voices.’ It was more, ‘Let’s have more of a fabric of people’s identities.’” He adds, “It would have been better to have had other male singers, but my ego wouldn’t let that happen.”

The National have also revealed that their previously announced, already-sold-out “An Evening with The National” shows in Paris, London, Toronto, New York and Los Angeles in April will also include a screening of their I Am Easy To Find short film, as well as a Q&A session with the band, Mills and others.

The band’s world tour begins in Philadelphia on June 11th, running all the way through a Dec. 5th show in Stuttgart, Germany. Courtney Barnett and Alvvays will open on select dates.

From The National’s new album ‘I Am Easy to Find’ out May 17th

I Am Easy To Find

The first single, album opener “You Had Your Soul With You” features co-lead vocals from Gail Ann Dorsey, former band member and collaborator of David Bowie. As the album’s opening track, ‘You Had Your Soul With You,’ unfurls, it’s so far, so National: a digitally manipulated guitar line, skittering drums, Berninger’s familiar baritone, mounting tension.  Then around the 2:15 mark, the true nature of I Am Easy To Find announces itself: the racket subsides, strings swell, and the voice of long-time David Bowie bandmate Gail Ann Dorsey booms out—not as background vocals, not as a hook, but to take over the song.

The album will also feature a spattering of backing accompaniment from Lisa Hannigan, Sharon Van Etten, Mina Tindle, and Kate Stables of This Is the Kit.

Along with the album’s massive, 68-minute runtime, it will also be accompanied by a 24-minute short film directed by Mike Mills and starring Oscar winner Alicia Vikander. Mills, along with the band, is credited as co-producer of the album, which was mostly recorded at Long Pond, Hudson Valley, NY with additional sessions in Paris, Berlin, Cincinnati, Austin, Dublin, Brooklyn and more far flung locations.

Frontman Matt Berninger said of the narrative for their eighth studio album, and the band’s extensive history overall: I’m pretty much just pulling apart the same onion and every album gets a little closer to the center. Sleep Well Beast was a dive into our marriage in some ways, but if that was a three-foot diving board, this one feels like a cliff dive into not just marriage, but identity. I don’t know if we’re any closer to the center of the onion, but I feel like I understand the onion a little better, and I feel better about the onion. I know that I am my dad, my mom, my daughter, my wife, my band, my friends, my grandmother, the guy who cut me off in traffic, the guy who didn’t cut me off in traffic. I am those experiences. I am those influences. This is just an aging bucket. All these records, and all these things, are my afterlife already.

Get carried by a swarm of bees down to the new track “You Had Your Soul With You” and watch the teaser for the “I Am Easy To Find” short film (featuring the studio recording of “Rylan”) below, and keep scrolling for album details

From The National’s new album ‘I Am Easy to Find’ out May 17th.

The National tickets at Victoria Park in London

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The National have marked a year on form one the most controversial inaugurations of the most divisive American Presidents ever with a politically charged new video, for their track ‘Walk It Back’.

Using a host of close-up images of the current President and other figures, the band are raising questions marks over the robotic response we are offering. The video does this with the key focus being people but each image only showing us something untouchable, unattainable and, at heart, alien.

“The video documents the performance and spectacle of governance,” said director Casey Reas. It just his latest visual for the band, having previously directed clips for ‘Day I Die,’ ‘Carin at the Liquor Store,’ and ‘The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness.’

Directed by Casey Reas, the video features clips from various political broadcasts through the years such as Ronald Regan’s State of the Union address, and speeches from Newt Gingrich, Bill Clinton, Karl Rove.

The video documents the performance and spectacle of governance. It captures the pomp and rituals of Congress and its vainglorious, televised culture. The spoken text at the center of the song has been attributed to Karl Rove, George W. Bush’s advisor, but he has denied the association: “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality-judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

The Sleep Well Beast track is a glitchy, dystopian affair and feels cold, inhuman and somewhat isolated in every note. Fitting then that the band have used this single release to mark their line in the sand politically.

Taken from from last year’s ‘Sleep Well Beast’ album,

 

The National has been slowly, sometimes imperceptibly fine-tuning its sound over the course of seven albums. A common jab is that all of the band’s records sound the same (or, worse yet, that they’re boring). Sleep Well Beast, on first listen, won’t change that, but first listens are never where The National’s albums do their strongest work. An hour-long odyssey into the darkness of our times, both political and personal, Sleep Well Beast is quietly, gorgeously insinuating, from the Leonard Cohen-esque “Nobody Else Will Be There” to the electronic thrum that drives the incredible title track. It’s music that, as usual, demands and rewards close attention.

The National’s ‘Sleep Well Beast’ came out on September 8th on 4AD Records, and on Friday (July 14) they took the opportunity to present the album in full live at Guilty Party, a two-day collaborative concert at Basilica Hudson in Hudson, New York.

Watch them perform the live debut of ‘Born To Beg’ along with ‘Guilty Party’.

The National live from their Guilty Party in Hudson, NY

Sleep Well Beast was produced by member Aaron Dessner with co-production by Bryce Dessner and Matt Berninger.  The album was mixed by Peter Katis and recorded at Aaron Dessner’s Hudson Valley, New York studio, Long Pond, with additional sessions having taken place in Berlin, Paris and Los Angeles.

Photo by Matthew Baker/Getty Images

The National performed an intimate set at Centquatre in Paris, which was live streamed as part of our new concert series Pitchfork Live. During the show, the band ran through several songs from their upcoming album, Sleep Well Beast. watch the live debuts of “Nobody Else Will Be There” (at the 4:50 mark), “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” (20:50), “Guilty Party” (25:22), “Carin at the Liquor Store” (37:22), and “Sleep Well Beast” (50:06).

Elsewhere during set, they performed the new tracks “Day I Die,“ “Walk It Back,” and “Turtleneck.” They also played album cuts like “Fake Empire,” “Daughters of the Soho Riots,” and “Terrible Love.” Their new album Sleep Well Beast was released September 8th via 4AD Records. The band will embark on a tour behind the album later this year, including a stop at Pitchfork Music Festival Paris.

The National perform an intimate set at Centquatre in Paris for Pitchfork Live, filmed by La Blogothèque

Setlist 

0:32 – Nobody Else Will Be There 4:53 – Day I Die 9:35 – Matt discusses his coffeepot of wine 10:02 – Walk It Back 16:25 – The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness 20:48 – Guilty Party 26:48 – Carin At the Liquor Store 30:36 – Apartment Story 34:29 – Daughters of the Soho Riots 39:20 – Sleep Well Beast 46:48 – Fake Empire 51:35 – Terrible Love 56:21 – Turtleneck

Not the full show – they cut “Empire Line” in this version.

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The National released their seventh album last Friday called “Sleep Well Beast.” Many critics are calling it their best yet and certainly one of the best albums of the year. In a special performance recorded live just a few miles from their studio at the Basilica Hudson, Widely renowned band The National . In a special performance recorded live just a few miles from their studio at the Basilica Hudson, The National performs “Day I Die.”

The National performs “Nobody Else Will Be There.”

For Saturday Sessions: The National performs “Nobody Else Will Be There”.

a further track from their seventh album called “Sleep Well Beast.”. In a special performance recorded live just a few miles from their studio at the Basilica Hudson, The National performs “Turtleneck.”

Taken from the Saturday Sessions: The National performs “Turtleneck”.

 

The National wanted to go home. For the past three-plus years, the band had been working in studios all over the world — in Los Angeles, Berlin, Paris, and upstate New York — on the long-awaited follow-up to its 2013 album Trouble Will Find Me, which firmly established the dour indie rock band as an internationally successful arena-rock outfit.

The quintet was wrapping up its second to last day at guitarist Aaron Dessner’s newly built home studio in Hudson, New York, when Matt Berninger, the band’s lead singer and lyricist, received a phone call.

On the other end was his wife Carin Besser, a literary editor who plays a large role in sculpting, editing, and occasionally contributing to her husband’s lyrics. Up to that point, the entire band had been feeling less than thrilled with the lyrics to one of its songs, whose chorus went something like this:

“Aaron takes his acid trip in Copenhagen/ Says he wants to stay that way/ But he can’t explain it any other way.”

Besser had a solution. She had found an early demo with a different set of lyrics Berninger had initially written, years earlier, and thought they might be a better fit. After the band had called it a day, Matt and Carin spent the evening texting tweaks to the old lyrics back and forth until they had rewritten the lyrics overnight.

The following morning, Matt, “red-eyed from no sleep and too much coffee and weed,” plugged his laptop into the studio speakers and started playing the alternate demo his wife had found on repeat as the band filtered into the studio to pack up gear and put a few final finishing touches on the record. The second time the song began to play through, Aaron stopped what he was doing and stood silently in front of the speakers, listening intently.

“Well, that sounds better than what we had,” Matt remembers Aaron saying to him. “I’m willing to chase this, if you really want to do it.”

“We do that sometimes,” says Berninger, recalling the eureka moment that resulted in the entirely revamped, current version of “The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness,” the lead single to the National’s latest album, Sleep Well Beast,  “We flip the table over at the last minute, and if we don’t find anything when we flip the table over, then we know we’ve got the one.”

Over the past decade, the National has developed a reputation for being some of the most obsessive recording perfectionists in indie rock, a group that will record or mix a song in 80 different ways until they settle on something resembling consensus on a final product.

So when Scott Devendorf, the National’s bassist, recalls the moment when Matt and Aaron committed to reworking “The System Only Dreams” at the 24th hour, he remembers having one simple thought: “Okay, we’re going down that path again.”

For the past decade and a half, ever since releasing its self-titled debut album in 2001, the National has gradually developed one of the more fascinating collaborative songwriting methods for a band in any genre. Berninger writes lyrics to musical sketches made most often by guitarists Aaron and Bryce Dessner, with Scott and drummer Bryan Devendorf, who comprise the National’s rhythm section, later offering structural feedback and contributing additional instrumentation in the studio.

The National worked on its first several albums locally in Brooklyn, after the band moved to New York from their native Cincinnati in the late ’90s. But in the past five years, the group began to adjust how it made records after its members dispersed geographically, with Matt living in Los Angeles, Bryan back in Cincinnati, Scott in Long Island, Bryce in Paris, and Aaron splitting time between Copenhagen and upstate New York. As a result, much of Trouble Will Find Me was the product of several years of emailing song sketches, lyrics and instrumental parts back and forth.

The band’s newfound separation was one of the driving factors behind Aaron Dessner’s decision to build his new studio, a space where the band could once again convene to work for extended periods of time.

“That’s the big story of this record,” says Bryce Dessner, the guitarist and classically trained composer whose musical role tends to be pushing his bandmates towards left-field experimentation. “Finally having a place where we can all play together after all these years was really amazing for collaborating.”

Sleep Well Beast is the National’s seventh album and their first release in more than four years. In the period following their last album, the band devoted a good chunk of time toward Day Of The Dead, a three-disc tribute to the Grateful Dead organized by the National and featuring artists that ranged from Lucinda Williams and Mumford & Sons to Courtney Barnett and Lucius.

“It definitely rubbed off,” says Scott, who thinks the group found themselves more willing to make less structured, more improvisational music after absorbing so much of the Dead’s influence.

The National - Tour

Since their inception, the National have been defined by the push-and-pull creative dynamic between Matt Berninger, a pop traditionalist who, as the group’s sole lyricist, gravitates toward recognizable melody and straight forward song structures, and the Dessner twins, progressive-minded multi-instruments who tend to favor the avant-garde.

That dynamic is more plainly on view than ever before on Sleep Well Beast, which contains strong dosages of both the most straightforward pop balladry and the most far-out experimentation the five-some has ever put on record.

Songs like “Carin At The Liquore Store” and “Dark Side Of The Gym” are straightforward pop numbers with hints of doo-wop and r&b, the latter a reference to Berninger’s hero Leonard Cohen’s 1977 tune “Memories.” Meanwhile, songs like “Walk It Back” and the title track are full of spoken word interludes, programmed drum beats, and complex rhythmic patterns. 

“We allowed ourselves to try so many new things and take a lot of risks, but at the same time, if the song was special and obviously strong, we didn’t rule it out because it had something to do with our past,” says Aaron.

In the National, most songs begin with Aaron Dessner. He usually comes up with his initial ideas — typically some sort of “rhythmic or harmonic behavior” — by mindlessly tinkering around on guitar or piano.

Aaron, who composed the majority of the music for the band’s new album, goes into great technical detail when describing his group’s music, detailing a litany of harmonic patterns, rhythmic intervals, and chord inversions that comprise the National’s latest record. Aaron Dessner is an enthusiastic promoter of the National’s musical synthesis, eager to talk about the theory and process that defines the group’s creative dynamic; in our 30-plus minute chat, I ask him a mere total of five questions.

Over the years, the National’s internal studio arguments and laborious decision-making have become the stuff of indie rock legend. Bryce Dessner, for one, can still point to specific musical disagreements that happened nearly a decade ago. “Aaron resents me for writing ‘Lemonworld,’” he says, unprompted, at one point while calling from his home in Paris. “He thinks it’s not an interesting enough piece of music.” 

Aaron recalls one particularly tense moment in Hudson. The group had been discussing the song “Sleep Well Beast,” an atypical musical sketch that Bryce and Aaron had become particularly invested in seeing to completion. But Berninger had been having a hard time connecting with the song, and at one point put forth a suggestion: “Why don’t we mute everything except for the drum loop, and we can write something else to it?”

Before Aaron went to sleep that night, he turned to his wife, and said, “I think we just destroyed the one song I’m most excited about.”

What happened next is typical of the National’s chaotic process: The band appeased Matt, using the drum loop to form the foundation of a new piano ballad, “No Guilty Party.” After writing that new song, Aaron, still trying to convince Matt of the musical possibilities of “Sleep Well Beast,” took the lyrics from “No Guilty Party” and inserted them into the “Sleep Well Beast” backing track. It worked: Matt slowly warmed up to the initial song sketch and began writing separate lyrics to that piece of music, which ended up serving as the record’s concluding moment (and the longest studio recording the National has ever put on record).

The resulting two songs, “Guilty Party” and “Sleep Well Beast,” are just the latest in a long line of examples of the National deploying its inherent creative tensions in its favor.

“We’re experimental and quite adventurous in our tastes and in what we do live and what we all do separately,” says Bryce. “Our records have tended to be a little more buttoned-up and … not conservative, but economical. If they’re adventurous it’s in more subtle ways, the way we would use an orchestra or the fact that we would make these weird hits out of all these sleepy songs.”

Those sleepy hits — be it 2007’s morose ode to disillusionment-turned-Obama-campaign song “Fake Empire,” 2010’s Great Recession-era lament “Bloodbuzz Ohio” or 2013’s anxious arena rock anthem “Sea Of Love” — have formed the backbone of the band’s songbook.

But on its latest, the National mostly abandons a core feature of its signature sound — the slow-building musical climax that’s been described as “crescendo rock” — for a more subtle approach. On Sleep Well Beast, the band allowed its sparse ballads to remain as such. And when the group did build exuberant musical landscapes, during the endings to “Walk It Back” or “I’ll Still Destroy You,” it composed entirely separate pieces of music and stitched them together.

“Where in the past we’ve been hammering this sort of anthemic thing,” says Bryce, “these ones have more information in them.”

Matt Berninger is surrounded by notebooks. He’s calling from his home in Los Angeles, where he’s lived since 2013and at the moment, he’s sitting in a room where he stores all of his old writing journals.

Berninger used to depend on these notebooks: he’d constantly jot down lines and lyrics, fill them up with color-coded page markers, and write notes to himself in the margins.

“They stressed me out, all these notebooks, and staring at them gives me a bit of anxiety,” he says. “I don’t need to dig them up again. Those notebooks are dead bodies. Let them rest in peace.”

In recent years, Berninger has adopted an entirely new, unstructured approach to lyric writing. Nowadays, he doesn’t write unless he has music in front of him, and when he is writing, he now relies on a mix of improvisation and free-association. He’ll receive a demo from Aaron or Bryce, lie down on a recliner with some wine and weed, turn the music on, and begin singing the first thing that comes to his head.

“I find it much more exciting to just keep running forward through the woods, not worrying if I’m going in the right direction,” he says.

Berninger now uses one-page Word documents when he’s ready to begin gathering the countless revisions and rough takes he records — often directly into his laptop microphone — on GarageBand.

The lyrics on the Berninger’s newest batch of songs, however, are every bit as evocative in their specificity as anything he’s ever written. On “Carin At The Liquor Store,” Berninger, who’s always been at his sharpest when documenting upper-middle class malaise, paints an exquisite portrait of privileged summertime longing:

I see you in stations and on invitations

You’d fall into rivers with friends on the weekends

Innocent skies above

Carin at the liquor store

I can’t wait to see her

I’m walking around like I was one who found dead John Cheever

Over the span of his career, the essence of Berninger’s thematic focus as a songwriter has essentially remained the same. “Sometimes, I want to remind myself of ideas I’ve written, so I write them again in a different way,” he says. “Usually that idea is one of three things: I’m freaked out about the world, I want to be a good husband and dad and I’m trying but sometimes I’m a bit of an asshole, and I’m sorry. So it’s either: I’m scared, I’m sorry, or I love you. It’s one of those three things, almost always.”

With the National back in the studio together in Hudson without any immediate deadlines or time crunches, the band was able to experiment and create more freely, and more collaboratively, than they had in years.

Devendorf characterizes the band’s recording sessions as opportunities for each member of the band, “a five-headed monster,” as he puts it, to constantly give each other feedback and advice.

“There will be times when I think I’ve messed up a whole section on the drums and think it’s terrible, and Aaron will say, ‘That’s the best thing you’ve done on the whole record,’” says Bryan. “The band helps me see what’s working. Otherwise, I would just try to make things too complex.”

For their most recent sessions, Berninger introduced a few gags to help lighten the mood and foster directness. He instilled “Honesty Hour,” when the band would give unfiltered opinions about each other’s creative ideas. He also embroidered a knit cap with the word “Producer,” and whoever wore the literal “Producer’s Hat” would get to make production decisions at that moment. “Matt wore it a lot,” says Scott Devendorf. Indeed, Sleep Well Beast marks the first time Berninger receives an individual co-production credit on a National album.

Seven albums and 15-plus years into their career, the National are still finding ways to reinvent and fine-tune the way the band harnesses the talents of all of its individual members to write interesting songs and make lasting records.

“It’s kind of a cliché, but bands are all about the alchemy of individuals,” says Bryce Dessner. “There are fairly well-worn relationships that play out, and then we subtly challenge them. That’s part of keeping it interesting — we have to keep growing. How do you do that? Especially a band that becomes mildly successful, it’s easy to get overconfident. Part of it is that our self-deprecating personalities allow us to challenge ourselves. It’s like, ‘Actually, though, what we do is not that interesting, so let’s keep improving it.’” 

Tracklist:
Nobody Else Will Be There
Day I Die
Walk It Back
The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness
Born to Beg
Turtleneck
Empire Line
I’ll Still Destroy You
Guilty Party
Carin at the Liquor Store
Dark Side of the Gym
Sleep Well Beast