“Laugh Track” is the band’s most freewheeling, all-hands-on-deck album in years.
The National has released a surprise second album of 2023, “Laugh Track”, which the band announced Friday night while performing at its Homecoming Festival in Cincinnati.
The 12-song “Laugh Track” is a companion to and features material originally started in the same sessions as First Two Pages of Frankenstein, which was released by 4AD in April.
The National has also confirmed additional U.S. tour dates this fall, as well as Australian shows next spring with support from longtime friends Fleet Foxes.
“Laugh Track” is the band’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.
Reveling in the license 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.”
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,” he sings. 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.”
First Two Pages of Frankenstein debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Rock and Alternative Album charts, while “Tropic Morning News” spent five weeks atop its Adult Alternative Airplay tally, marking The National’s first song to hit that peak since 2017.
NME proclaimed it the band’s “finest album in a decade,” while the Wall Street Journal called it “a wry, melancholy album full of remarkable focus.”
On the heels of selling out New York’s famed Madison Square Garden during its first headlining show at the venue in August, The National begins a European tour Sept. 21 in Dublin including two sold out shows at London’s Alexandra Palace. New U.S. dates will get underway Nov. 10 in San Francisco, and will be followed by four newly announced shows in Australia in late February and early March 2024 on sale HERE from Friday 22nd September.
Formed in New York in 1999, The National’s last five albums have all been in the Top 5 in the UK charts, with 2017’s Grammy award-winning (for Best Alternative Album) Sleep Well Beast hitting Number 1. In the US, The National have scored five top 10 albums on The Billboard 200.