Home Hear Now Hear This: The National | Laugh Track

Now Hear This: The National | Laugh Track

THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE:Laugh Track is The National‘s most freewheeling, all-hands-on-deck album in years.

If Frankenstein represented a rebuilding of trust between group members after 20+ years together, the vibrant, exploratory Laugh Track is both the product of that faith and a new statement of intent. Revelling in the licence to radically upend its creative process, The National honed most of this material in live performances on tour this year, and captured those invigorated versions in impromptu sessions at producer Tucker Martine’s Portland studio, Flora Recording & Playback.

The nearly eight-minute album closer Smoke Detector was recorded in June during a Vancouver soundcheck, completing a body of work bristling with spontaneity and vintage rock energy that makes a perfect complement to the songs found on its more introspective predecessor.

Laugh Track features guest appearances by Phoebe Bridgers and Rosanne Cash, as well as the Bon Iver collaboration Weird Goodbyes, which was released as a standalone track in August 2022. “It felt like the story had already been told. It was its own thing,” says group member Aaron Dessner of 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 of the story in the songs left uncompleted, which ranged far beyond the gentleness of Frankenstein. Over the years, Aaron admits The National has often bailed on grand ideas of making 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’s no intentional split between Frankenstein and Laugh Track. But if the former found frontman Matt Berninger in search of sanctuary, here there is a newly clear-eyed assessment of what matters. His fierce need for intimacy is heightened by an ever-greater fear of modern life’s unreality. The characters on this album (no first names, other than a tour manager named Alice — just “I” and “you”) cover for one another, dream for one another, and help maintain appearances — living up to the promise of absolute care that Matt made on Frankenstein closer Send for Me.

Photo by Sophie Bouquillon.

As for what doesn’t matter? Turn Off the House concludes the emotional inventories Berninger took 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.”

His recent struggles with writer’s block and depression still lingers, but there’s acceptance in it. “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’s Smoke Detector. “It felt like the epitaph,” says Matt. “Burn it all down at the end.”

Formed in New York in 1999, The National have scored five top 10 albums on The Billboard 200, with 2017’s Sleep Well Beast earning the Grammy for Best Alternative Album.”