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The National: Laugh Track review – second album of the year feels like a fresh start

The existential conundrums of a cast of sad-sack characters – including a shattering Phoebe Bridgers collaboration – build up in dread and anxiety toward an intense, teeth-baring pay off The National became one of the defining indie bands of the late 2000s and early 2010s for two reasons: their combination of stately literary flourishes and sublimated musical aggression that often builds to a baroque, brutal climax, and their unique gift for capturing genteel Gen X and millennial mania. The Ohio-born band make music for a generation whose freeform employment ended up being as soul-crushing as their parents’ cubicle jobs. I say this as a compliment: it’s challenging to write about middle-class malaise and make it sound so gripping. In recent years, the band has faced criticism for becoming boring. That’s hard to argue regarding the music: there were fairly drastic overhauls in 2017’s Sleep Well Beast, finding a midway point between frosty IDM and U2-ish bombast, and 2019’s I Am Easy to Find, which introduced female singers to counterpoint frontman Matt Berninger’s rich baritone. The criticism seems to refer to a kind of lyrical slippage from reckless romanticism and withering creative-class satire to half-hearted depiction of an upper-middle class creative life. Take Eucalyptus, from the band’s ninth album, First Two Pages of Frankenstein, released in April, in which the protagonist wonders what to do about the bulk luxury water delivery once his wife’s gone. Continue reading...

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