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Most people attribute The National’s escalating popularity to their reliability: They write songs about existential dread and the real pressures that result when others are depending on you to have your shit together. And while that steadiness is certainly important, it gives short shrift to how the Brooklyn-via-Cincinnati band’s career fulfills a fantasy. Though their self-titled 2001 debut is all but written out of their history, every National album since has been more ambitious, accomplished, and successful than the one that came before it. They are strivers, and their place in the indie rock world suggests that life can be a series of upward promotions and self-improvement. But hard work is often a cover for repressed frustration, as was clear on 2010’s High Violet, an album whose wrought arrangements and violent lyrics underscored every story about what a tremendous pain in the ass it was to make. The question they ask on Trouble Will Find Me is both relatable and fantastical: When do we get a break from shooting up the ladder?
The National may find it impossible ever to relax, but they have learned to stop struggling on Trouble Will Find Me, their leanest and most aerodynamic record yet. While the National never lacked confidence or craft, Trouble is an easily accessible and self-assured work, largely because it focuses on the visceral power of Berninger’s vocals and Bryan Devendorf’s inventive drumming. It’s a sign of trust that they can convey all of their ornate and rich melancholy without every sad note being underlined by a bassoon. — Pitchfork