Few bands have had an impact quite like Brooklyn-formed The National, who first came to fruition back in 1999. With each album this remarkable quintet continuously shapeshifts, delivering a consistently polished and refined take on alt rock. Now the band deliver their ninth record, ‘First Two Pages of Frankenstein’. Crafted at the scenic, and creative paradise, Long Pond Studios in upstate New York, it comes nearly four years after their last studio effort, with the time in between almost a limbo period for the band. After a whirlwind few years, the band were in a rut, but after some serious perseverance, “we approached everything from a different angle, and because of that we arrived at what feels like a new era for the band” explains Bryce Dessner. The result is a hopeful snapshot of those bleaker times, this ninth record being a delicate, slow burning moment that ranks among their best.
Opener ‘Once Upon a Poolside’, featuring Sufjan Stevens, is a cinematic prelude to the record. A minimalist bulk, with a distorted and embedded background of rich harmonies, strings, melancholic textures struggling to break through, leaving a haunting piano ballad at the forefront. It is a truly stunning opening to the album, delivering an aura of hopeful gloom. On ‘This Isn’t Helping’, Matt Berninger’s deep, velveteen vocals paired with indie royalty Phoebe Bridgers’ timbre is a heavenly combination, their respective voices complimenting each other in a truly ethereal way. Bridgers also pops up on penultimate cut ‘Your Mind Is Not Your Friend’, once again her instantly recognisable vocals executed with the utmost quality.
Given Aaron Dessner’s collaboration prowess over the last few years, it’s only natural that Taylor Swift would pop up on this record. ‘The Alcott’, while actually feeling a little ‘folklore’ in nature, is truly stunning, especially given how immaculate Swift’s vocals have become over the last couple of years. Like with Bridgers, Berninger’s voice is clearly universal, able to merge with any duet effortlessly. Swift’s brief solo vocal at the end of the track is nothing short of perfect.
‘First Two Pages Of Frankenstein’ is a more sombre moment in The National’s catalogue, a carefully sculpted project, a level of fluidity and richness stitched together with the highest calibre of performance, production and songwriting. Like Frankenstein and his monster, the commitment to the design and blueprint of this record is incredible; every minute detail, sound, glitch, has been selected with the utmost care by The National.
Words: James Mellen
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