We listened to a preview of “Laugh track”, the band’s new album, which was unexpectedly released today.
Review written on September 18, 2023 by user
The National went 4 years between I’m Easy to Find and The First Two Pages of Frankenstein and less than six months between the latter and The Laughing Track, announced just last weekend and released today. We’re back in the days of “Bringing Out Beyoncé,” as the singer’s 2013 trend of releasing a record with no surprises and no marketing was called some time ago.
“Laugh track” is a sister album to “The First Two Pages of Frankenstein”, as evidenced by the cover, same photograph.
This isn’t anything new either: in 2020 alone, Taylor Swift released “folklore” and “evermore” within six months of each other, as did Ed Sheeran – and both worked with The National’s Aaron Dessner.
In this case, “Laugh track” is the other twin (if you can use the definition…) in terms of how it was recorded and how it sounds.
Album on road
The songs were mostly written along with Frankenstein, but those included on this album were rehearsed during soundchecks and the final versions were recorded in the studio during a break from the tour. A tour record somewhat similar to REM’s “New Adventures in Hi-Fi”, which has always been one of the group’s exemplars: the song also references this dimension, “Tour Manager” (“Do what you can to get me out of of this plan tonight/Maybe you can say I wanted to do it but I won’t be back in time/It’s great how you can find a good excuse for anything/None of them are cheap, but how long can you keep the coverage going” ).
Let’s start with the last song: “Smoke Detector” is an on-stage jam where Matt Berninger sang a verse he had written earlier (“Smoke detector, smoke detector / All you gotta do is protect her”) and then he improvised the flow consciousness on the band’s guitars. REM comes to mind again: Michael Stipe called them “vomit songs”, and they were some of the best things the band had to offer. Same goes for National: “Smoke Detector” is a gem, worth the album alone.
In general, “Laugh track” is a somewhat freer album: it can be heard well in the instrumental coda of “Space Inventors”, for example. This approach also allowed us to revive “Weird Goodbyes,” a semi-electronic song with Bon Iver that was released as a single in 2022 but was not included on the previous album.
Some elements remain in place: Berninger’s soulful and sad singing, the rhythmic structures of the Devendorf brothers, the guitar-melodic structures of the Dessner brothers.
There are also some collaborations on this tour: in addition to Bon Iver, Phoebe Bridgers returns, already present on two songs from the previous album, who this time sings on the title track: “Laugh track” is a pre-recorded laugh, the one we hear on background in sitcoms. Here Berninger uses them as a metaphor to convey the protagonist’s disorientation, one of the band’s classic songs (“So turn on the laugh/Everybody knows you’re a wreck/You’re never so quiet, your smile is cracking/You’re just a refuge.” haven’t found that yet) what you are looking for”).
There’s also Rosanne Cash on “Crumble,” the most direct song on the album, both melodically and lyrically; one of the most emotional moments, a perfect counterpoint to the free-form “Smoke Detector” that immediately follows.
In short, another center: it is impossible not to love a group that does everything in its own way, without loud statements and strategies, composes songs that are never banal in sound and arrangement: concentrates of emotions.
If “The First Two Pages of Frankenstein” was too national, then “Laugh track” shows the band letting themselves go, and they do it very well.
1. Alphabet City
2. Deep End (Floor in pieces)
3. Weird Goodbyes (featuring Bon Iver)
4. Turn off the house
6. Laugh Track (feat. Phoebe Bridgers)
7. Space Invader
Coat on a hook.
10. Tour manager
11. Crumble (featuring Rosanne Cash)
12. Smoke detector