Exclaim!'s Best of 2013: Top 20 Pop & Rock Albums, Part One

15. The National
Trouble Will Find Me

In Saturday Night Live's Wes Anderson parody, The Midnight Coterie of Sinister Intruders, a faux New York Times review reads, "You had me at 'Wes Anderson.'" Similarly, when it comes to year-end best-album lists, the National tend to enjoy predictably favourable treatment. Nevertheless, sixth studio record, Trouble Will Find Me, certainly deserves the honour, pedigree aside.

On late-act highlight "Pink Rabbits," when Matt Berninger sings, "I love a storm, but I don't love lightning," he does a great job of distilling the combo's latter-day ethos. This collection of songs may lack the urgency of "Mr. November" or "Abel" and the comic violence of "Conversation 13," but Berninger keeps things plenty dark; he's just more comfortable with it; it's why he stays down with his demons ("Demons"), why his recognition of his own limitations never makes him inert ("Graceless") and why his apologies come with a "…but" ("Sea of Love").

Of course, this being Berninger, inner conflict still abounds, and his cohorts do an exceptional job of underscoring it with deceptively complex arrangements. While cuts like "This is the Last Time" and "I Should Live in Salt" opt for assuredness rather than insistence, they're still filled with voltas and sonic fake-outs.

Yes, Trouble Will Find Me exudes casualness, yet repeated listens betray its erudition. Approachable records — and there are many ways into this one — don't typically ask much of their listeners, though this one is simultaneously inviting and nuanced, making it wholly addictive. (Scott Tavener)