The National, known for their indie prowess, have returned with their tenth album, “Laugh Track,” which has stirred a range of reactions within critics and fans alike. But does the album live up to the band’s previous grandeur, or does it sink into its own existential dread? Let’s dive in.
The Return to Existentialism
The National have long been the chroniclers of existential struggles, particularly those of the middle class. Their knack for combining “stately literary flourishes and sublimated musical aggression” has set them apart in the indie genre. However, this album presents a different kind of existentialism. It forgoes “the airy atmosphere and hand-wringing solipsism of Frankenstein,” their previous album, to bring a mature interpretation of life’s tribulations1.
Collaboration with Phoebe Bridgers: A Harmonious Contrast
The album’s title track, featuring Phoebe Bridgers, stands as an emotional cornerstone. Bridgers’ ethereal voice complements frontman Matt Berninger’s rich baritone, and the result is “shatteringly bleak.” The collaboration delves deep into a harsh acceptance of a seemingly endless struggle, epitomizing the sentiment of the entire album.
A Departure from the Norm: Diverse Reviews
The album has received mixed reviews. While Clash Music praises the “collection of songs on ‘Laugh Track‘ as a music that will stand the test of time”2, The Independent notes that “the ghosts are floppier and friendlier than they’ve been in a while”3. Pitchfork, however, was less impressed, indicating that the album only “fine-tunes its predecessor’s approach, albeit subtly”4.
The Cathartic Ending: ‘Smoke Detector’
“Smoke Detector,” the album’s closing track, serves as a raw, ferocious conclusion, reframing the entire collection. It acts as a counterpoint to the “building dread and anxiety” that pervades the album, unleashing an “intense, acidic awakening” that seems like a new beginning.
Despite facing some criticism over the years for becoming ‘boring,’ The National’s ‘Laugh Track’ manages to balance nostalgia for the band’s earlier days with a willingness to evolve. Whether it perfectly hits the mark is subjective, but it’s clear that this album has once again put The National’s existential quandaries at the forefront of indie music conversation.