Lore and storytelling play a huge role in every album The National releases, and on their ninth album, “First Two Pages of Frankenstein,” released in April, narrative is more important than ever. After their collaborations with Taylor Swift on her pandemic albums “Folklore” and “Evermore,” their profile has grown, even if the band dynamics seem “fragile” amid life changes and writer Matt Berninger’s siege. But those conflicts were stark in the music NME They called it “their best in a decade” and said they had succeeded in “proving that they can do it themselves as well as they can with a world waiting.”
‘Laugh Track’ has been described as a ‘surprise double album’, whether that’s based on the release without notice (alongside some disturbing leaks on a fan forum), or that the desire to release this material has crept up on them. Talking to NME Earlier this year, Aaron Dessner revealed that more than 25 songs had been completed in previous sessions and that he was proud of the “conviction” the band had when choosing the 11 songs that make up “First Two Pages…”.
That was until early June, when the band began soundchecking what would become the closing track “Smoke Detector,” a nearly eight-minute jam that has rough edges that some believe are missing from “First Two Pages…” The performances from that stage are preserved here in a mostly original form, astonishingly raw, the spark of Berninger’s phrase “Smoke detector, smoke detector / All you gotta do is protect her.” As stark and unforgettable as his best. The song has since become a staple of their recent summer tour.
This speed, reminiscent of “Alligator”, contributes to the success of “Laugh Track”. The band re-recorded nine of the new songs from that current batch, as well as making room for their 2022 Bon Iver collaboration “Weird Goodbyes.” Brian Devendorf’s drumming – thunderous, complex and cutting – is more important to each song: “Deep End (Paul’s In Pieces)” feels instantly memorable, as does the riveting take on “Dreaming.” The crescendo of “Space Invader” is as difficult as “Daddy Rockers” have been in a while, with the straightforward drumming largely sidetracking the electronic contributions on “First Two Pages…”
There are welcome connections between the two recordings: Phoebe Bridgers appears again with backing vocals on the title track of “Laugh Track,” while “Coat On A Hook” and “Hornets” intersperse Berninger’s oblique notions of a relationship in crisis: “What does it mean when your arms fall asleep? / And how do you get rid of wasps before the weekend? He thinks about the latter. We will get back to you on this matter. “Crumble” is elevated by her duet with Roseanne Cash – daughter of Johnny and John – and her country twang, and “Alphabet City” is filled with a vocal tension that sounds very similar to the material on the previous record.
The tightness of “First Two Pages…” songs like “Tropic Morning News” and “Eucalyptus” is more or less absent, although the looser structures and resolution that allow the songs’ space to grow, both melodically and lyrically, pay off. In a statement shared with The Record, Berninger said that this period “feels like shedding skin” and that the band is treading into the unknown once again in its next creative cycle: an exciting new chapter will certainly emerge.
- release date: September 18, 2023
- Mark record: 4 m
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