“Flowers Cover Over Everything”
Thought #1: The Same Talking Points I Have to Get Out
If you’ve read absolutely anything about I Am Easy to Find in the past few months then you’ve likely been made aware of a few facts:
1.) Director Mike Mills (of 20th Century Women & Beginners fame) collaborated with the band and actress Alicia Vikander on a short 25-minute film that serves as a rambunctious sibling to the album.
2.) Mike Mills worked with the band in the studio as an executive producer despite professing he doesn’t have much musical ability. He helped direct the band’s sound, encouraging them into interesting directions.
3.) There are a host of female guest vocalists on the album including: Gail Ann Dorsey, Eve Owens, Diane Sorel, Mina Tindle, Lisa Hannigan, Sharon Van Etten, and Kate Stables.
4.) Carin Besser and husband, Matt Berninger, collaborated on all the lyrics for IAETF like they have for every album since Boxer. Except with this album, Besser wrote even more than she normally does. For example, the lyrics for “Hey Rosey” were written entirely by her.
Okay. Now that we’ve gotten those things out of the way, we can move on.
Thought #2: A Collection of Scenes From A Life Lived
Much like Mills’ short film, that’s what this album feels like too. Each song hits me in a way where I relate to it in a very real past, present, future kind of way. For example, when I hear “Quiet Light,” I relate to it on three levels:
Level One- Past me, the sad, angsty kid I once was, pining after some unknown love that I wasn’t even sure was actually out there somewhere, the love that would hopefully come along to remind me who I was supposed to be. Unlike everyone else ever in existence, I really didn’t have a smooth transition into adolescence, so even the lyrics: “I used to fall asleep to you talking to me/ And I don’t listen to anything now” reminds me of my mom and I growing further apart as I tried to figure out myself.
Level Two- Current me, the one where I’m actually pretty happy and content yet constantly scared that it all may fall apart if I’m not vigilant or even if I am. “Everything I need, but none of this is getting me anywhere good.” Then I just know the day is coming when our kids will have to disconnect from us too. It won’t be long before they won’t listen to anything we have to say. It’s not going to be fun, but it has to happen.
And also, now that my mom has been gone for almost eleven years, the line: “Between you and me, I still fall apart at the sound of your voice” really hits me.
Level Three- Future me, the one that I’ll be lucky to make it to. The one where I fear I’ll circle back to being that sad and lonely kid I once was. The “Light Years” version, the one where I spent so much time worrying about losing what I had that I didn’t notice time taking it away from me. My kids growing up and leaving us, the prospect of outliving Stacy or vice versa, it’s all kind of a bummer. “Between you and me, I thought it would all last a little while longer.”
Jesus, all of all that sounds so damn sad, but I don’t know, this song actually makes me happy? Something about feeling less alone with all these feelings makes me feel a little better.
“Quiet Light” does offer a solution to all this too, essentially: don’t get caught thinking that it’s all going to last forever, appreciate these people while they’re here now. Sometimes I’ll be holding my kids while I scroll aimlessly through my phone, feeling anxious, when the line “Nothing I wouldn’t do for another few minutes” comes to mind so I put my phone away and start playing with them instead.
Thought #3: Just Kids / Please Think the Best of Me
Being a small town Midwestern kid forever in my heart, I constantly fall in love with cities and the lives I see moving through them. It’s one of the precipitating factors that led me to connect so much with the National in the first place (at the risk of sounding just so lame: They sounded like New York City). It’s that same feeling that caused me to love Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids.The small reference to Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorp in the lyrics of “Roman Holiday” brings that connection full circle. The refrain of “Please think the best of him” and “Please think the best of me” can reduce me to tears if I’m not careful.
Thought #4: I Wasn’t Normal
For my first several weeks with the lead single, I thought it went “You had your soul with you/ I wasn’t normal” but then I got the liner notes and saw it went: “You had your soul with you/I was in no mood” which makes more sense.
Continuing that thought…
Thought #5: “It’s Not Leviosa. It’s Leviosaaa”
Or in my case, it’s not “I still got my fear.” It’s “I still got my eye for you.” But in the context of “Oblivions,” I feel “I still got my fear” can work the same way as “I still got my eye for you” (And in no way am I trying to make this point because I already wrote the thing that I wanted to say when I had the wrong lyric in mind).
There’s a comfortableness that comes from being with the same partner for years. If you’re not careful that can lead to complacency and before you know it the two of you have changed into such different people, you’re no longer recognizable to each other. Despite being with Stacy for fifteen years, I still have the fear that could happen to us if we’re not careful. Even the best relationships are work. I want to use that fear to keep me present and aware of what Stacy’s feeling, how she’s changing, and who she’s changing into so that I can be there for her through all of it. And then, there’s that other fear, the one of us dying before the other, because even if we do navigate all of this together successfully our best-case scenario is still oblivion.
It’s a tough thought to think, but…I don’t know…it’s also oddly comforting? Listening to “Oblivions” makes staring down oblivion feel that way.
And wow, I think this also sums up the last three (four?) albums by The National.
Thought #5.5: Every National Album Needs Its “Everything It Wants.”
Update to the above: A kind person from the National Sorrowposting Group on FB, pointed out that the lyric actually is: “I still got my fear” in the liner notes to the album. This is my fault for trusting AppleMusic who has the lyric as “I still got my eye for you.” When in doubt, go with the liner notes. Sorry for the confusion.
Thought #6: Tom Carried in Space By A Dolphin Balloon
I recently re-watched Mistaken for Strangers and you know that scene where Tom’s in the pooland he’s yelling at what he thinks is Moby’s house? Well, he’s floating around on an inflatable dolphin so on “The Pull of You” when Matt says: “Is this how I lose it? Everything at once carried to space by a dolphin balloon?” I like to think he’s talking about Tom being his everything and it’s really sweet.
Thought #7: The Hey Baby Moment
The “Hey Baby” moment is known as the 2:52 mark of the opening track of Sleep Well Beast in which there’s a lingering pause and Matt sings: “Hey Baby! Where were you back there? When I needed your touch.” It’s awesome and everyone loves it.
In looking for a moment on I Am Easy to Find that provides a similar feeling, there are three contenders:
1.) In the chorus of “Roman Holiday,” Matt and Gail Ann Dorsey sing “Roman Hol----iday” that pause, those blissful 0.4 secs where I’m waiting for them to finish the word, that’s a “Hey Baby” moment for sure.
2.) Every time the chorus comes in on “Hairpin Turns” with “What are we going through, you and me?” Hate to say it but the verses tend to drag for me so it’s always a relief when the chorus kicks in on this one.
3.) We’re going to “The Pull of You” for the second verse when Matt shout-sings: “Maybe we’ll talk it out inside a car/with rain falling around us/we all know this rain is hard to take.” I say “shout-sing” because I love how this verse starts more like a yell before shifting into a melody that’s so beautiful that for my first listen I wondered if it was Gail Ann Dorsey singing it.
Thought #8: Chevy The Cat Gets His Tail Shaved
My first listen of I Am Easy to Find was interrupted because our family cat, Chevy, got his tail caught in a door. HE’S OKAY. We just had to take him to the after-hour vet, where they shaved half his tail and gave him a shot of antibiotic. Apparently, it was close to his spinal cord, which could’ve been bad, but he’s back to his normal energetic self. The whole experience was more traumatizing for our 8 yr old son than anyone. It’s just a lingering memory that I think I’ll always associate with this album.
Thought #9: An Afterlife As Directed by Michelle MacLaren
“Not In Kansas” calls to mind an afterlife in a purgatory-lite place where all one can do is wonder around the remnants of their previous life, recalling bits and fragments of the things they loved, feeling disconnected from their family, friends, spouses, partners, while trying to psyche themselves up to say goodbye before moving on to the next stage.
The lyric about the pool being drained and his bedroom being a stranger’s gunroom always makes me imagine the house from Breaking Bad. I guess I envision purgatory to be like New Mexico, rich with desperation, all desolate with a gorgeous horizon that seemingly stays just on the edge but never within grasp.
Or maybe the song’s just about growing up or getting old and the loneliness of outliving your loved ones. Any interpretation probably works.
Thought #10: I Get So Far, So Fast
From the afterlife of “Not In Kansas” springs forth the rebirth in “So Far, So Fast” which is lowkey one of my favorite tracks off I Am Easy to Find. This marks the second half of the album for me. So while I imagine Alicia Vikander’s character as the protagonist for the first half of the album, I begin imagining Rylan as the main character for the second half. Except—and I swear weed isn’t legal in Illinois just yet—I see them as still the same soul or pieces of the same soul or maybe Rylan is the son and the female protagonist is the mother or maybe Rylan becomes the dad in the swimming pool or maybe life is one big circle and we’re all the reincarnated souls of our grandparents or maybe the idea of a soul is fluid so if you want to believe that to be true then it’s true and if you don’t then it’s not or maybe none of it means anything or…maybe I just did a terrible job explaining this, but the first possibility I said (almost) makes sense to me.
Thought #11: Or Maybe
Or maybe it’s just a song about growing up. One of our boys is going to be a third grader next month, the other will be starting kindergarten. I know, I know. For real, it’s happening, we just picked out lunch boxes from Target yesterday. I could cry forever. They really do get so far so fast.
Thought #12: A Better Option Than Naming Your Child Daenerys
One of the most joyful occurrences of the past few months is that two of my favorite people in the world have fallen in love with each other. Both of them are also big National fans, so on the eve of I Am Easy to Find, we were messaging when one of them mentioned that if they ever have a son they’d like to name him, Rylan Keanu. I tried to play it cool, but I already love little RK so much. If/when he needs it, I’ll encourage him to get some sun.
Thought #13: Could He Run Forever?
Three times I’ve soundtracked my super-slow 45min Dad-jog around Arrowhead Lake with I Am Easy to Find, and while it doesn’t push me as well as say Pusha T’s Daytona or anything by Run the Jewels, it’s still not a bad way to pass the time as I try to exercise.
Thought #14: You Wanna See Me Cry Play “Light Years” Or “I Am Easy To Find”
Yep. Either one of those songs will almost always do the trick.
Thought #15: How Well Do These Songs Translate Live?
This may come as a surprise to anyone that’s read this far, but the new songs are so great live.
I got to see The National for the first time when they came through Indianapolis for the IAETF tour. They played almost the entirety of the new album with the exception of “Hairpin Turns,” and the instrumental tracks. It was the kind of show where I wanted to listen to the album as soon as we got in Emily’s car afterwards. Highlights were: “Not in Kansas” with Luluc providing the chorus vocals and “So Far, So Fast” which I wasn’t entirely sure they would even play.
Thought #16: Best Run of Songs
Initially, I was convinced that the early album run of Quiet Light-Roman Holiday-Oblivions-The Pull of You-Hey Rosey was the best five song run on the album, but now I believe that the mid-album run of I Am Easy to Find-Her Father in the Pool-Where is Her Head-Not in Kansas-So Far So Fast is the best.
Thought # 17: Lyric I Relate to the Hardest From the Entire Album
It should be obvious at this point, but it’s: “Just so tired of thinking about everything” from “Quiet Light.”
Thought #18: Ranking of Songs
There are 16 songs on I Am Easy to Find, and I love them all, but for the sake of fun, I’m going to rank them.
15- “Her Father in the Pool”
14- “Dust Swirls in Strange Light”
13- “Hairpin Turns”
12- “You Had Your Soul With You”
11- “Where is Her Head?”
10- “Hey Rosey”
9- “Roman Holiday”
8- “The Pull of You”
6- “Not in Kansas”
5- “So Far So Fast”
4- “Light Years”
3- “Quiet Light”
2- “I Am Easy to Find”
Okay. Dang. This ranking will definitely change repeatedly as I spend more time with this album. I had no idea how hard it would be to rank those top nine as I think they’re all contenders for best song on IAETF. Those nine hang with anything else in The National’s catalog, for sure.
Thought #19: Ranking of Albums
There are eight studio albums by The National, and I love them all, but for the sake of fun, I’m going to rank them:
8- The National(2001)
7- Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers (2003)
6- Sleep Well Beast (2017)
5- Alligator (2005)
4- I Am Easy to Find (2019)
3- Trouble Will Find Me (2013)
2- Boxer (2007)
1- High Violet (2010)
Those top six albums are better than any other band I like and it’s not really that close (Death Cab? Maybe? But nah, not really).
Thought #20: “Flowers Cover Over Everything”
That line at the end of “Not in Kansas”…whew. It always reminds me of two things and, in true National dichotomy, one of those things is silly and always makes me happy and the other is serious and always makes me sad.
1.) Have you seen Midsommar? It rules. You should see it if it’s still in theaters near wherever you are. Anyways, there’s this (I don’t think this is a spoiler, but sorry if it is) huge flower dress that Florence Pugh wears near the end, and it breathes with her. It’s really cool. So when I hear this line, it reminds me of that scene.
And the second thing can be upsetting to some so if you want to skip this last part, please do so.
2.) Right around when I Am Easy to Find came out, Stacy found out she was pregnant. It wasn’t necessarily planned but we were both really excited. In June we learned there were some complications with the pregnancy, which meant more doctor appointments and a lot of worrying over something neither of us could do anything about. Then at the end of June, we found out we lost the baby. It was upsetting for both of us, but it was understandably harder on Stacy. I tried to be there for her when she needed it and to get out of her way when she needed that too.
In the same way that High Violet helped prepare me for being a father in 2010, and Trouble Will Find Me again in 2013, I Am Easy to Find became my guide through this time, all the joy and heartache, all the hope and sorrow, all the times I felt big, small, scared, at ease. So many lyrics from IAETF took on new meanings. It started as one thing then it became something else.
The majority of this review I wrote when IAETF first came out, but after the heartbreak, it was hard to want to write anything, let alone finish this. As insignificant as it may seem, this unfinished, silly little review was a reminder of what we lost, a reminder of the future—that for a short time—we imagined for our family. I didn’t want to face it. It started as one thing and now it meant something else.
In the days that followed the procedure, several friends and family members sent flowers. They didn’t cover over everything, but they certainly let us know that we weren’t alone.
“I still fall apart at the thought of your voice.”
We’re still getting better, still learning how to lie there in that quiet light.
Fame? Sure, fame.
Bought from a secondhand bookstore in Brooklyn when I visited in 2015, coincidentally.
The Tom in the pool scene also made me imagine Tom as the father in the song, “Her Father in the Pool.” I know, I know, it’s the dad from the short doc, but I prefer imagining Tom so that’s what I’m going to do.
Though really I’m from Southern Illinois where alt-right opium has definitely gone viral so I don’t have to look too far beyond my home-state for that desperation. New Mexico is still far prettier though.
Though really Daenerys is a fine name too. Season 8 didn’t do her justice.
If “Forever” is forty-five minutes then yes, yes, he could.
Though yes, Matt definitely messed up the fast vocal part in “Where is Her Head?” but it just made me love him that much more.
Again, I actually love all these songs, but it is surprising to me that I have two of the three lead singles from I Am Easy to Find ranked this low. Perhaps it’s because I burned them out the most before the album was even released? That could be the case, but honestly, I feel like these songs aren’t as great as the others.