The National – I Am Easy To Find
For years I’ve held The National up as the textbook example of a band that get better with every release, but sadly that streak has been broken. I Am Easy To Find is too bogged down with it’s many small, yet often connected, flaws to fit amongst their lengthy run of great records. For starters it’s way too long, and contains way too much filler. By shaving off about 5 tracks you’d be left with a much more consistent and purposeful record. The stretch of tracks from ‘Her Father In The Pool’ through ‘Dust Swirls In Strange Light’ are the most obvious candidates for being cast aside. Other than the fact that ‘Not In Kansas’ has one of the best lines on the album in “it’s half your fault so half forgive me”, this cluster of tracks fails to make a positive impression.
That is mainly down to this album’s biggest flaw; it’s over-use of guest vocalists. The pantheon of singers that feature on this record all too often take over, particularly in these central tracks, to the point that it doesn’t feel like The National anymore, it feels like it should have been a separate side project. They feel more like a distraction rather than adding anything meaningful to the record. There are a few rare moments where the guest vocals really work as intended and inject new life into the record, most notably on the title track which stands head and shoulders above the rest as an album highlight. For the most part though it just feels like too much of a good thing, leaving the final product much too cluttered and aimless.
I feel like the focus on the gimmick has also had a negative impact on the instrumentation. Over the course of their previous records you can plot the band’s trajectory and hear how they have build up their sound, adding new elements at each stop along the journey. All that progress seems to have been cast aside for this record in favour of cold and empty arrangements. Thankfully the band are at their very best lyrically to make up for it.
There are fragments of a great album to be found bookending this record. ‘You Had You Soul With You’ and ‘Quiet Light’ are top tier National tracks that start the record off in fine form, and have the most interesting and rewarding arrangements on the whole album. Fan favourite ‘Rylan’ finally gets a home on a record, and ‘Hairpin Turns’ and ‘Light Years’ offer up their trademark bittersweet piano driven vibes, perfect for staring out the window on rainy days. Along with the title track, that makes about half of a great album tucked away beneath tracks that are just… there. I don’t feel disappointed or frustrated by these tracks, I just don’t feel anything at all. They just drift by without making the faintest impression.