As a critic, I had to write about the National — report them, box them, sum them up. I once described them — in indelible ink, I’m sorry to say — as “sounding like U2 on a bender.” Deadlines, you reach for that stuff, you don’t look back. Free of the assignments now, I’m enjoying actually getting to know this band like a real human being. One day this week, an appointment canceled and I spent an hour wandering campus, a flaneur in earbuds, listening without note-taking, loving. With American Music Club largely a gone concern, the National fills its borders and makes peace with pathos. But such muted, mumbled passion — this newest album, Trouble Will Find Me, is a symphony of restraint, an odyssey on a wine-darkening sea swirling with pre-panic and forecast regret. Every pulled punch lands squarely, every urgent squall falls apart sweetly. Matt Berninger, a low baritone in a high-tenor world, shuffles in slippered feet through Mark Eitzel’s broken-glass wake, dotes over his songs, poking at them with his sheepish staccato, with a band upholstering its sound in cushy tones and alluring pats (does Bryan Devendorf even have any cymbals?). Viscous and visceral, a joy to imbibe.
I'm THOMAS CONNER, communication researcher and culture journalist.