On Friday, The National will release their eighth album in 18 years, I Am Easy To Find. In some ways, it’s very much what you might expect — a moody, slow-burn set that cuts brawny indie rock with avant-classical swells and esoteric electronic flourishes, creating a thoughtful backdrop for Matt Berninger’s fractured, existential narratives about middle-aged urbanites. However, I Am Easy To Find is also quite unlike any record The National has ever made, integrating a supporting cast of female vocalists (including Gail Ann Dorsey and Lisa Hannigan) who frequently displace Berninger altogether.
The National’s ability to carve out a distinctive sound, while also changing just enough to make each new album feel like a new chapter, has kept them at the forefront of mainstream, traditionalist indie music for more than a decade. While I Am Easy To Find affirms the National’s continued creative evolution, it also marks the group’s unofficial transition to a rarefied strata in modern indie. Simply put, there aren’t many active rock bands in the early 21st century that have put out as many quality albums over as long of a period. The National, truly, is a rare breed.
While it seems strange to refer to National as a classic-rock band, they do have a deep enough catalogue now that warrants extensive exploration, as well as a thorough celebration. On the eve of I Am Easy To Find‘s release, I decided to count down my 40 favorite National songs. Making this list was both pretty easy (I could name a couple dozen worthy tracks that didn’t even make the list) and very difficult (I now wish I could somehow put those tracks in this list). But, to quote my favorite National lyric, I believe it’s a good mixture.
40. “Not In Kansas” (2019)
This instant classic from the forthcoming I Am Easy To Find references Annette Benning and Lifes Rich Pageant and likens the first two Strokes albums to the first two Godfather films. It is the most National National song ever. And yet it’s also unlike any other National song before it. That is this band’s magic trick.
39. “Lemonworld” (2010)
A favorite among National fanatics, “Lemonworld” is famous for being one of the most tortured tracks during the making of High Violet, requiring upward of 80 takes. (One of the working titles was “Wrath,” which should really be the name of a National song in the future.) When I listen to “Lemonworld” I like to imagine that the sisters who make Matt Berninger want to sit in and die are Aaron and Bryce Dessner.
38. “American Mary” (2001)
This standout from The National’s self-titled debut is most famous for being the URL of the band’s website. Most National fans agree that the first record is the National’s worst, though it might have the best album cover — drummer Bryan Devendorf lounges shirtless by the pool and looks like “Lost Weekend”-era John Lennon.
37. “Mistaken For Strangers” (2007)
One of my favorite stories from Lizzy Goodman’s Meet Me In The Bathroom is about The National having a rehearsal space next to Interpol, and the band members having to walk through an Interpol photo shoot when Turn On The Bright Lights blew up in the early ’00s. Anyway, “Mistaken For Strangers” always sounds to me like The National’s attempt to write an Interpol song — turns out they’re pretty good at it!
36. “About Today” (2004)
The Cherry Tree EP is a bridge between the National’s early formative period and the “mature” era that commenced with Alligator. If “All The Wine” is the Cherry Tree track that points forward, “About Today” puts a cap on the Wilco-like trad-rock of the first two albums.
35. “Nobody Else Will Be There” (2017)