Fans of The National should by this point be accustomed to the weird, but last week’s announcement of a sixteen track mega-album and a short film starring Alicia Vikander takes the band in a new artistic direction while continuing a musical journey that began almost two decades ago.
Hot off the back of 2017 album Sleep Well Beast, which won a Grammy and became The National’s first UK number one, the Radiohead-inspired angst salesmen will release I Am Easy To Find (their sixth studio album) on May 17. The band tweeted a minute-long teaser for a 24-minute film of the same name, directed by Mike Mills (20th Century Women) and starring the Oscar winner Vikander (Tomb Raider). New song “Rylan” plays in the background. “Rylan, you should get some sun / There’s a little bit of hell in everyone”, lead singer Matt Berninger croons sweetly on the upbeat downer, so typical of the band.
“You Had Your Soul With You” is similarly somber in lyrics and energetic in its rhythm, a love letter to break-ups. Berninger is joined on vocals – somewhat unusually, for a band that doesn’t do novelty – by David Bowie’s session master Gail Ann Dorsey. “If I yield to my trances, will I get up close again?” she asks ruefully in the bridge section, joined – more typically, for The National – by a chorus of strings. It’s something of a curveball for a lead single, and certainly uncommercial. But if it’s a preview of the new album’s electronic indie sound, it leaves a lot for fans to look forward to.