The National – First Two Pages of Frankenstein
The National have been at the forefront of the indie/alternative scene for over two decades, with a string of acclaimed albums including 2007’s Boxer, 2017’s Sleep Well Beast and 2010’s High Violet. The group incorporate elements of baroque with more traditional indie and rock elements, and return with their ninth collection, First Two Pages of Frankenstein. This release features two collaborations with Phoebe Bridgers and one apiece with Taylor Swift and Sufjan Stevens. In spite of the string of guest appearances, this is still very much a National record, built as ever around Aaron and Bryce Dessner’s music and Matt Berringer’s lyrics and distinctive vocals.
Once upon A Poolside is a slow piano-based opener that helps set the tone, with Stevens’ vocals marrying Berringer’s in a subtle guest appearance. The backing voices add an otherworldly feel to the track.
Eucalyptus is more of a straight-up rock song that wouldn’t feel out-of-place on Boxer – or Sleep Well Beast, in particular – allowing the rhythm section to kick into gear in its second half to show that, in spite of their more languid material, The National have their heavier moments and a real depth to their sound. Alien carries on this indie feel and is one of the highlights, again illustrating multiple sides to the band and their evolution across the past two decades.
New Order T-Shirt again feels like a classic National track, sure to be a favourite among fans and incorporating electronic elements. The record’s first single Tropic Morning News is far more heavily electronic, coming across like something from LCD Soundsystem – and a welcome departure in sound for the group that suits Berringer’s style and adds a different dimension to the record.
The two collaborations with Phoebe Bridgers are also subtle, with her guest vocals working well alongside Berringer’s. It builds into a rousing finale from a slow-paced beginning, resulting in a song that is sure to be a standout live. Your Mind Is Not Your Friend is built around the piano with background strings, but is nonetheless effective and again shows how at-ease Bridgers and Berringer are with one another, making for a pair of intriguing and ultimately rewarding offerings that leave a lot to unpack.
The Alcott is another slow-paced joint effort with Taylor Swift, following The National’s appearance on her album Evermore. The songstress’s appearance demonstrates how well the musicians understand one another. She is afforded more of the spotlight than Stevens or Bridgers, but never outstays her welcome, again in perfect sync and keeping the band’s sound intact.
This is another stellar record from a group who have produced consistently outstanding material for over 20 years. The duets here, far from being distracting, feel organic without taking away from the album’s identity, the majority more delicate in nature. First Two Pages of Frankenstein encapsulates all that fans have come to love about the band, bringing a sense of haunting darkness, but also optimism and energy, often moving seamlessly between the two. There is still plenty of life in The National and this release offers intriguing glimpses of new directions that fit their style.
First Two Pages of Frankenstein is released on 28th April 2023. For further information or to order the album visit The National’s website here.
Watch the video for the single Eucalyptus here: