The National have returned to the scene with their ninth studio album, First Two Pages of Frankenstein. Dropping Friday, April 28 via indie label 4AD, the rock mainstays have etched another impressive backdrop of melancholic production coupled with their wistful, ever-pensive lyrics. There are a few moments filled with brighter hues that lend the whole instrumental landscape an ethereal, pre-summer vibe that’s very timely. The album features contributions from fellow singer-songwriter types Sufjan Stevens, Taylor Swift, and Phoebe Bridgers. Throughout the 11-track run, we’re granted a glimpse into the anxious reality of a band trying to revitalize themselves in a musical landscape less and less concerned with typical convention.
Setting themselves up with clever lead single “Tropic Morning News” allowed fans time to hone in on a more upbeat sound. The guitar halfway through reminds us that this is a rock album, or that this is The National’s true roots, and all the indie-folk stylings are layered on top of this foundation. The song spent five weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s Adult Alternative Airplay chart, and became The National’s first song in over five years to hit that mark. The song thematically discusses the modern practice of “doomscrolling,” continuously latching onto negative news stories and information on the internet with a perceived inability to stop, no matter how bad the news gets.
Lead singer Matt Berninger relates this sensation to personal struggles in effective communication and relating to others: “The idea of referring to the darkness of the news in such a light way unlocked something in me. It became a song about having a hard time expressing yourself, and trying to connect with someone when the noise of the world is drowning out any potential for conversation.”
Most of the songs are just as sad and familiar as you imagine songs by The National to be, but that’s part of the band’s appeal. Right in line with their usual forlorn fare on First Two Pages of Frankenstein are songs like “Ice Machines,” “Grease In Your Hair,” “This Isn’t Helping” alongside Phoebe Bridgers, and personal stand-out track “Alien,” detailing tender desires to return to Earth after an abnormal, interstellar infatuation wreaks technicolor havoc. It’s a soft and plodding astral love story. Berninger is adept at very individualistic storytelling, enrapturing the listener’s sympathy with stories and anecdotes that sound dissonant upon first listen, but remain trapped in the mind like an earworm afterwards, despite not adhering to the writing structures and techniques that constitute a typical earworm.
Another track that particularly stands-out is “The Alcott,” a duet between Berninger and Taylor Swift. It’s a really good exchange between voices, and a great blending of similar musical styles. It’s a copacetic musical relationship, and one ripe with history, too: co-founding member Aaron Dessner has produced several tracks on each of Swift’s last three albums, Folklore, Evermore, and Midnights, and Berninger has previously duetted with Swift on the track “Coney Island” from Evermore. This song most easily illustrates the balance between The National’s often gentle musicality with their eccentric writing and production choices.
The National has begun promotional appearances in support of the album, including a performance of “Eucalyptus” on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon on Thursday April 27. The band will also embark on a world tour this year with support from Soccer Mommy, The Beths, and Bartees Strange across several dates. The tour kicks off with a four-night stint in Chicago on May 18, and the band will play their first-ever show at New York’s Madison Square Garden with special guest, celebrated punk rock icon and poet Patti Smith. Find all touring information and dates here. Tickets are on sale now.