The National – Laugh Track
The National have already released one of the year’s best-reviewed LPs, The First Two Pages of Frankenstein, their first in four years. To the surprise of many, they have followed it up with Laugh Track, described by Matt Beringer and co as a companion record. Like its predecessor, it has some guest appearances: Phoebe Bridgers, who also guested on two tracks previously, Bon Iver and Rosanne Cash.
For a band that has become known for taking their time between releases, it is refreshing to have so much new music to pour over. Alphabet City is a typically atmospheric and moody opener that could have slotted in well on the previous album or Sleep Well Beast, with an electronic undercurrent to it.
Deep End recalls some of the group’s earliest work, with more of a pounding energy to it, driven by Bryan Devendorf’s work on drums. It’s a classic National track that is sure to go down well with fans and become a live favourite. The difference in pace shows that there is plenty of depth to the band’s sound, even after over 20 years together.
Weird Goodbyes with Iver was released in 2022 but finds its home on the new record. The two artists’ sounds slot together well, with Berringer’s vocals working in sync with Iver’s, and electronic and ambient elements incorporated in the background. It will be interesting to see if this is a collaboration that will continue in future.
Turn off The House is more acoustically charged and one of the most affecting songs, gradually bringing other textures into play and acting as a showcase for multiple members of the band as they work their magic in tandem. There is an impressiveness to its subtlety as it weaves between several components.
The title track, which features Bridgers, will likely draw much attention. It’s a pairing that clearly works well for both: Bridger’s and Berringer’s voices together are haunting. More upbeat than their previous collaborations, it finds each of the artists operating in top gear, complementing each other.
Space Invader is a sprawling seven-minute epic that encapsulates all that audiences and critics have come to love about the group. It is certainly one of the most out-and-out rock numbers on the record, with some hugely effective contributions from Bryan Devendorf and Scott Devendorf on bass, as it builds into a thunderous, messy second half.
After ten records, The National have once again proved that they have plenty more to offer as they continue to build on their monumental body of work. Laugh Track is a rousing surprise album that acts as a fine contrast and companion piece to the more contemplative release from earlier in the year, with a harder edge to it. It never feels like leftovers: there is a real dynamism and energy to many of the tracks and the collaborations add depth. It is a richly rewarding listen across 12 tracks, and when listened to alongside The First Two Pages of Frankenstein, fans will have hours of moody Baroque rock to mull over.
Photo: Graham MacIndoe
Laugh Track is released on 18th September 2023. For further information or to order the album visit The National’s website here.
Watch the video for the single Deep End here: