Release Date: April 28, 2023
Review by Sheldon Hubbard
When records feel like the soundtrack to a personal journal, they’re almost hard to listen to. Let alone review. The lyrics on this album ooze poeticism and have flowery, well-placed instrumentation that conveys near-existential ruminations akin to Picasso’s painting, Girl Before a Mirror. Folks interpret that painting in a few different ways, but for the sake of this review, I’m going to stick to the observer and the reflection approach.
The observer here is The National themselves, and the reflection is this new album of theirs, First Two Pages of Frankenstein. How does an alt-Americana band spanning back to at least 1999 release a fresh take on how life, in all its glory and madness, can still be the epitome of an emotional rollercoaster?
By keeping true to the roots of why musicians (or any artist in any medium) gravitate toward that indispensable, deeply personal space within which one beckons to create in the first place. Dispensing your truest self through an artistic endeavor is nothing new, and the First Two Pages of Frankenstein feel like an atmospheric stitching together of dreamstate sound exploration and absolute human expression.
An expansive array of sad-sounding strings, exciting drums, and weighty croonings, this album moves through hues of sentiment much like the pages of a diary. A reflection that exhibits vehement emotions through a tenderly amplified soundscape. One that features ghostly warm guest vocals from such The National friends as Sufjan Stevens, Phoebe Bridgers, and Taylor Swift... you can’t help but feel like testimonial notes have come to life while you move track to track. Even the lyric video for "The Alcott" houses spectral slides of home-video-style recordings that visually bleed and overlap as The National and T-Swift echo their respective parts.
I found myself leaning more toward tracks like "Tropic Morning News," "Alien," and "Grease In Your Hair'' because they wavered more sonically toward a driving, yet mystifying alt pop/rock sound that reminded me of why I used to love such artists as Of Monsters and Men, Lord Huron, and Band of Horses. After traversing The National’s discography in depth to properly reflect on this record in relation to who these folks are as a collective, The National’s die-hards are gonna go gaga over this effort. It demonstrates a style that The National is known for artistically while also proving how they’ve stepped out of their comfort zone musically.
Incorporating newfound pop-rock elements with a mature, Lower East Side, Luna Lounge, jam-rock feel, First Two Pages of Frankenstein conjures a considerable reflection of its observer (again, the band themselves) and how far they’ve come in life and throughout their career.
While I can’t say you’d find them extensively across my own music library, you can tell this album is special to them as artisans of early indie rock. Especially in relation to their fans. Upon wrapping up this review, I thought of a fine quote from Jim Carrey that sums up the overall ambition for this album’s sound (at least from my interpretation of it):
"Life doesn’t happen to you, it happens for you." Jim Carrey, 2014 Maharishi University commencement speech