The past three National albums—a.k.a. the ones that launched the band from semi-obscurity to festival headliner—have been released in late spring, but they couldn’t be wintrier. And yes, the new Trouble Will Find Me burbles in the same gloomy stewpot as the uniformly excellent Alligator, Boxer, and High Violet, collections whose differences from each other are subtle enough to elude all but the most fanatical listeners. Luckily, The National is exactly the type of band to inspire that sort of fanaticism: Careful, patient listening always offers copious rewards (and perhaps a mild case of depression).
Trouble’s main difference might actually be that it’s slightly less immediate than High Violet, though almost nothing the band has ever done—save maybe “Terrible Love” and “Abel”—could be described as immediate. Like the rest of the National catalog, Trouble Will Find Me is subtly insinuating; at first it seems almost free of hooks, then six listens later it’s difficult to get it unstuck. It burrows and then resides, first easy to forget then basically impossible.
It starts slowly and builds both in songwriting and performance strength: Gorgeous as it is, album opener “I Should Live In Salt,” with its repetitive “you should know me better than that,” won’t bring new people into the National fold. But things pick up and never flag with the rollicking (relatively speaking) “Don’t Swallow The Cap,” which chugs on the surface and simmers underneath, and in which Matt Berninger eventually admits in his comely baritone, “I have only two emotions / Careful fear and dead devotion / I can’t get the balance right.”
“Sea Of Love” sounds the most like an Alligator track, which is to say slightly more aggressive and with Berninger reaching into his more impassioned register for a song-length apology of sorts to a spurned lover or former friend. It’s the Trouble song that will allow the band to unleash live, à la “Mr. November.” “Graceless” serves a similar purpose, though it brings in some weird little new wave/goth flourishes that The National occasionally flirts with.
Winter lets up just a bit with “I Need My Girl,” an almost-traditional-sounding ballad that serves as Trouble’s best showcase for Berninger’s voice: Like the music that weaves around it, his voice is singularly beautiful, and more diverse than it’s given credit for. Sure, The National’s range is limited, but the band has spent its career—or at least the four albums including this one—finding new wonders in that limited space.