Every now and then a band comes into your life and changes everything.
The last time this happened to me was in 2007 as I sat in my childhood bedroom playing Football Manager on a PC the size of a house. I was listening to some burnt CDs (yes, it was that long ago) that a friend had given me. Freddy Adu had just scored a hat trick in Nottingham Forest’s treble winning season. I pressed play. And I heard these words:
‘Stay up super late tonight/Picking apples, making pie/Put a little something in your lemonade/and take it with us.’
I paused my game and sat back to listen. There was no name written on the blank CD and it was before the days when our first thought would be to Google some of the lyrics. I just listened. Again and again. It would be at least 48 hours before I learnt that this album I was so in love with was The National’s Boxer, and things would never be the same again.
In the 12 years that followed music become an ever more integral part of my life. I learnt, because of The National, that music, for me at least, was not about the swagger and front of bands like Oasis and Kasabian. It wasn’t about bluster. Music was about emotion, acceptance, finding the people who feel things the way that you do. That burnt CD was a life changer.
Those 12 years have also seen me travel far and wide to see the band, stay up until midnight for each album release, appear in one of their live videos dancing along to ‘Mr November’, and even getting a piggy back from Matt Berninger at their Brighton show. I have spent more time with The National than I have with most of my friends and family.
So you can imagine my excitement at the surprising announcement in March that they would be releasing their eighth album on May 17. Especially considering it is only just over a year and a half since the last one.
I Am Easy To Find was announced at the same time as its first single was released. ‘You Had Your Soul With You’ features Bowie collaborator Gail Ann Dorsey on guest vocals; a fact that heralded one of the key points about the band’s forthcoming release. Those of you who are getting a little tired of Matt’s baritone vocals (and yes, there are a few such idiots) will be relieved to hear that I Am Easy To Find will feature a host of female vocalists alongside our (my) favourite frontman. Expect Sharon Van Etten, Kate Stables of This is the Kit, Lisa Hannigan, Mina Tindle, and more. This alone feels like a good enough reason to be even more excited about this album than I would be usually.
‘You Had Your Soul With You’ was followed by the guest vocalist free ‘Light Years.’ This second single is more standard National fare; while the first single enhances the glitchy, electronic direction the band took on Sleep Well Beast, ‘Light Years’ sees Matt sing over a looped piano while telling a tale of a moment in a strained relationship. It is The National in their purest form.
And here is where the debate may lie. There will be those, as there was with Sleep Well Beast, who feel that The National are due a drastic departure akin to Radiohead’s Kid A moment. But there will be others, myself included, who feel that The National has changed by small degrees with every album and that those small degrees have always been enough to keep things interesting.
That day in my childhood bedroom with only Boxer to keep me company, I learnt that music has the power to change your thinking. To speak to you in ways that you didn’t know were possible. The band still speak to me in that way with every release, and if they can continue to do so I hope they never change too much.
‘You Had Your Soul With You’ shows that that small evolution continues; ‘Light Years’ reassures that they will still be the band we know and love. And the addition of the guest vocalists, many of whom have been produced by members of the band in the past, is enough to make this my most anticipated album of the year. May 17th cannot come soon enough.
Words by Fran Slater