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When The National made a comeback earlier this year with First Two Pages of Frankenstein, it became quite evident that their era of supremacy was far from ended. The unexpected release of “Laugh Track” reveals two separate sides to the rock band: one seeking togetherness and the other dancing in its radiance.
Long, contemplative music is wonderful and good, but it’s frequently more engaging when there’s a destination in mind. “Laugh Track” serves as a gentle reminder that there’s a difference between tenderness and boredom. The National was very clear that this project was about going with the feelings, from the creative process to the final output.
Album Cover Art
Designed by Pentagram, the album artwork features a kid standing in what would appear to be a study lounge of some sort, showcasing the detached head of a new mannequin named Paul.
Tracks and Features
Beginning with “Alphabet City,” there is an immediate musical tension reminiscent of the music on their previous recordings. In ‘Deep End (Paul’s In Pieces),’ the song effortlessly navigates despair before coming to rest in the center of a hazy mood. One of the highlights, “Weird Goodbyes,” was released last year but was not included on First Two Pages of Frankenstein. Justin Vernon of Bon Iver provides the ideal harmonic presence for the song, which eventually finds a place on the album.
Rosanne Cash delivers a wonderful counter-vocal to Berninger’s delicate and scratchy crooning on “Crumble,” creating the ideal mix-up even though much of Laugh Track is cleverly situated within the band’s particular world of reflection. On the album’s title track, Phoebe Bridgers also makes a comeback, lending her vocals to a delicate piece that seems like an homage to clinging to hope. Her voice nicely complements Berninger’s trademark sadness and heightens the poignancy of the song.
The National’s music is known for its melancholy and misery, but Laugh Track stands out by significantly decreasing several of the instruments that were prominent on their previous studio album, First Two Pages of Frankenstein. This change marks the return of the intricate guitar interplay between the Dessner twins, which takes center stage in songs like “Turn Off The House” and “Space Invader,” once more giving the album a sense of vigor reminiscent of their vivacious live performances. The overall listening experience is additionally improved by a number of lengthy outros.
The album’s final track, “Smoke Detector,” clocks in at approximately eight minutes in length. The National are at their best on this song, which is distinguished by Dessner’s haunting guitar melodies, Devendorf’s powerful drumming, and Berninger’s reflective, almost meandering lyrics. ‘Smoke Detector’ emerges as the best single from the album, signaling a return to the indie rock sound that had been gone from their studio albums for a considerable amount of time.
“Laugh Track” develops much in the same way as their previous studio album, First Two Pages of Frankenstein, keeping the pensive mood and perspective of the earlier work. Matt Berninger, the singer, continues to explore themes of gloomy isolation and relationship collapse.
John Leventhal, The National & Tucker Martine produced the project.