The National have released their second album of 2023. The new album, titled ‘Laugh Track’, was announced by the band last Friday during their performance at the Homecoming Festival in Cincinnati. Consisting of 12 songs, “Laugh Track” complements and incorporates material originally created during the same sessions as “First Two Pages of Frankenstein,” released in April.

Laugh Track‘ represents the band’s freest work in years. Where ‘Frankenstein‘ symbolized a rebuilding of trust between the band members after more than 20 years of working together, ‘Laugh Track’ is both the result of that regained trust and a new statement of intent. Enjoying the freedom to dramatically rethink the creative process, The National refined most of this material during live performances on their tour this year and captured these improved versions during improvised sessions at producer Tucker Martine’s studio in Portland, Flora Recording & Playback. The album’s closer, “Smoke Detector,” which lasts almost eight minutes, was recorded in June during a sound check in Vancouver.

Laugh Track features guest appearances from Phoebe Bridgers and Rosanne Cash, as well as the Bon Iver collaboration “Weird Goodbyes,” which was released in August 2022 as a standalone track. “It felt like the story had already been told. It was its own thing,” says group member Aaron Dessner about the latter track. “But it also felt related to what we were doing. That was part of the logic for making another record — let’s give ‘Weird Goodbyes’ its own home.”

There was another side to the story in the songs that remained unfinished, one that went far beyond the sweetness of Frankenstein. Aaron admits that over the years, The National has often forgone big ideas to make a rock record. “It’s not because we don’t enjoy sitting in a room banging around ideas. It’s just that it wasn’t that productive, so we developed a fairly elaborate way of building songs in which [drummer] Bryan [Devendorf] had a very important but compartmentalized role,” he says. “This time we had the desire to make something that was more alive so that Bryan’s playing would drive more.”

Thematically, there is no conscious separation between ‘Frankenstein’ and ‘Laugh Track‘. However, if we look at the first album where frontman Matt Berninger sought refuge, here we find a new, clear assessment of what really matters. His strong desire for intimacy is reinforced by a growing fear of the alienation of modern life. The characters on this album (without first names, with the exception of tour manager named Alice – just “I” and “you”) overlap, dream together and help each other keep up appearances – fulfilling the promise of unconditional care that Matt previously performed on ‘Frankenstein’ with the song “Send for Me“.

“Turn Off the House” concludes the emotional inventories Berninger made on “Weird Goodbyes” and Frankenstein’s “Eucalyptus,” a desolate surrender to leaving everything behind. “Tell them that you’ve gone to see / If you can find out what it means / When your mind leaves your body,” he sings. His recent struggles with writer’s block and depression linger, but there is acceptance in them. “Let’s just turn everything off and walk away,” he says. “Bail out of your head, of all the things you’re worried about, your career, your whole identity, how strong you thought you were.” Then of course there is “Smoke Detector”. “It felt like the epitaph,” says Matt. “Burn it all down at the end.”

After selling out New York’s famed Madison Square Garden during its first headline show in August, The National will embark on a European tour in Dublin on September 21, including a sold-out show at Amsterdam’s Ziggo Dome.

Tracklist ‘Laugh Track

1. Alphabet City
2. Deep End (Paul’s in Pieces)
3. Weird Goodbyes feat. Bon Iver
4. Turn off the House
5. Dreaming
6. Laugh Track feat. Phoebe Bridgers
7. Space Invader
8. Hornets
9. Coat on a Hook
10. Tour Manager
11. Crumble feat. Rosanne Cash
12. Smoke Detector


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