The National, "Trouble Will Find Me" (4AD)
Serenity isn't all that serene for the National on the band's sixth album. It's the plushest, most burnished album from a New York City band that has increasingly leaned toward the measured and stately. This time, the National utterly refuses to buttonhole listeners; the music calmly awaits attention, but amply repays it.
There has always been a classical-tinged element in the National's music. It tucked minimalist patterns into its songs and got string and brass arrangements from composers like Nico Muhly as well as from its own guitarist Bryce Dessner, who has a master's degree in music. But the band has also let guitars distort and drums kick into the foreground or pitted rock instruments vs. orchestra.
"Trouble Will Find Me" purrs; nothing protrudes or interrupts the luxurious melancholy of the songs. The music's tensions arise elsewhere: in lyrics full of regrets and brushes with death, in the way Matt Berninger's doleful baritone moves beyond its usual deadpan, in the gradual but eventually overpowering buildups.
"Demons" is a resigned portrait of chronic depression, with its glumness verging on shtick. In other songs, narrators watch themselves and others succumb to druggie temptations ("Sea of Love"), wonder if they're dying ("Heavenfaced") or drift toward separation and solitude. The album concludes with "Hard to Find," a hymnlike melody that offers a glimpse of desperate alienation in the subjunctive tense: "If I tried you'd probably be hard to find." The music is poised, but it's not hiding anything.
The National performs Aug. 6 at Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul.
JON PARELES, New York Times
The Del-Lords, "Elvis Club" (GB)
Back in the '80s, the Del-Lords made some of the most impassioned and street-smart rock 'n' roll this side of Springsteen. Not that it got them very far. Now, the quartet is back with its first album in 23 years.
"Elvis Club" doubles down on the Del-Lords' faith in the power and the glory of rock 'n' roll and its ability to get us through tough times, whether personal or political. The band's recommitment dovetails with the undeniable spirit of Scott Kempner's songs, from the openhearted romanticism of "Everyday" to the sardonic, wiseguy humor of "Chicks, Man!" and the soul-baring musings of "Silverlake." A triumphant return.
Nick Cristiano, Philadelphia Inquirer