The National
First Two Pages of Frankenstein


3.5
great

Review

by Rowan5215 STAFF
April 29th, 2023 | 316 replies


Release Date: 04/28/2023 | Tracklist

Review Summary: A letter of resignation.

It's no secret that I tend to conflate personal experience and objective criticism in my writing. Part of me thinks I'm just a selfish music listener, picking through records like a vulture for little moments I can steal for myself instead of just letting it all wash over me like the artist intended. It's kind of a sickness, to put it bluntly - one I have an idea of how to treat, but we'll get to that momentarily.

The National have been one of my favourite bands to write about over the years, largely because the experience of falling in love with a band I wildly misinterpreted off the bat taught me a whole lot about listening to and critically analysing music. I still remember that fateful spin of "Cardinal Song", of all songs: that wide-eyed feeling of revelation when the violins came in towards the end, that realisation of 'this Berninger dude, he's onto something' as the "Jesus Christ you have confused me" coda began. I've been chasing that feeling ever since, with this band and others, and it's been a search that resulted in nothing that I initially wanted, but which exposed me to truly invaluable pieces of music and art along the way.

But you're probably wondering what any of this has to do with me making a reasonably positive case for First Two Pages of Frankenstein, so allow me to decentre myself. The National sometimes use architectural descriptors to describe their music: it's an apt language for the foundations laid by Bryan Devendorf's quicksilver drumming, the support beams of brother Scott's bass and the guitarwork of the Dessner twins, the rooms filled up with furniture excavated from Matt Berninger's cluttered marvel of a mind. The textural touches of piano and orchestration, formerly just an extra lick of paint over plain white walls, over time growing to become the primary colour. "[...]We're building a whole sculptural world with the songs", Aaron says of First Two Pages of Frankenstein, referring to its interplay of rockier backing tracks, partially recorded live or in rehearsal rooms, and the glistening layers of polish on top. It's a new approach to recording that the band seem to credit with saving them from their latest, and apparently closest, brush with disbanding for good.

At first blush, it's an odd combination that recalls R.E.M.'s sprawling opus New Adventures in Hi-Fi, another half-live half-studio band-in-crisis document which earns comparisons to a masterful piece of architecture. But unlike that lengthy America-through-a-van-window travelogue, ...Frankenstein is a lean and almost entirely subdued affair, clocking in at 11 delicate tracks that slip away just as they seem primed to fully arrive. Then there's Berninger's lyrics: increasingly stripped back and linear on Sleep Well Beast and I Am Easy to Find, here we find the singer clawing his way back to the ego-damaged stream-of-consciousness monologues that marked his early triumphs. The album follows a loose conceptual thread of a person trying to let go of a relationship, from an amusingly self-referential opener which winks at the band's bygone eras with a ghostly Sufjan Stevens cameo, a sharply observed portrait of a failed couple trying to split up their possessions on "Eucalyptus", and coming around to a moment of grace in closer "Send for Me", an outright love song that plays like a re-evaluation of "Gospel" all these years later, the icy drinks and sardonic distance replaced by a genuine warmth and closeness that the band have never really allowed before.

It feels like a goodbye and an earmarked new chapter all at once, an appropriate enough place for me to close my own book on The National, and my time here as a whole. An admission that will surprise none of you: I've always buried myself in words instead of trying to face reality head-on, a crutch which at one point became more like an avoidance mechanism, one I'm sincerely trying to change. This might explain why I gravitated so strongly towards The National's orbit, this curious band with the razor-sharp lyricism and gentle ennui, in the first place. It definitely explains why it feels so right to bookend my time here as a full-time writer with a National review; my unabashed and somewhat delusional defense of this band throughout the highs and lows of their career is a perfect summation of how I spent the majority of my time on this site. It was a hell of a ride, and I wouldn't trade it for anything, but if you'd permit me one more moment of self-indulgence: this only works if I let go too.



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Comments:Add a Comment 
Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
April 29th 2023


47586 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

it's been fun sputnik, and I'll still be around somewhat. something something weird goodbyes

Sunnyvale
Staff Reviewer
April 29th 2023


5841 Comments

Album Rating: 3.3

Good stuff Rowan! Hope you will be "easy to find" going forward!



Thanks for all the great reviews through the years.

Colton
April 29th 2023


15213 Comments


you did this like a year ago and it lasted like a month and a half lol. all the best though and good review

DoofDoof
April 29th 2023


14975 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

Like 3.5’ing the 9th Pearl Jam album (not even sure which album that is)



They’ve got that similar loyal fanbase, fair play, they got there



Touring band

AnimalForce1
Contributing Reviewer
April 29th 2023


822 Comments


An amazing review to close out an amazing staff career here on Sputnik! I wish you the best of luck in whatever you do next, Rowan. Thank you for all the incredible reviews, and for exposing so many of us to incredible new bands and albums

mkmusic1995
Contributing Reviewer
April 29th 2023


1717 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Take care, Rowan! Great last review! :D

TalonsOfFire
Emeritus
April 29th 2023


20969 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0 | Sound Off

Hoping this grows on me a bit with repeated listens but was pretty disappointing. Most of the best songs are the pre-release singles. The features were pretty much wasted and Devendorf didn't get much to do either, which is practically a crime.

onionbubs
April 29th 2023


20662 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

this is absolutely beautiful man. love you rowbro best of luck with everything you have up ahead and i hope and believe youll be able to find the peace your deserve ❤️

YoYoMancuso
Staff Reviewer
April 29th 2023


18853 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

That emeritus tag will feel wrong for a few days but you’ve 100% earned it. Thanks for all the amazing writing and memories over the years

tectactoe
April 29th 2023


7270 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

o7



Best of luck buddy

radianteclipse
April 29th 2023


506 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

Normalize 3.5ing boring music.

parksungjoon
April 29th 2023


47231 Comments


>Normalize 3.5ing boring music.


this is already the norm homie

pizzamachine
April 29th 2023


27051 Comments


Rowan away in his sad canoe


Gyromania
April 29th 2023


37015 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

Damn, if this is a Rowan 3.5 for a National album you know it has to be dogshit

Cormano
April 29th 2023


4071 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

adios row, always enjoyed reading you

JayEnder
April 29th 2023


19741 Comments


And so he rides off into the sunset. Love ya Rowbro

YoYoMancuso
Staff Reviewer
April 29th 2023


18853 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

brotha this is ASS

Sunnyvale
Staff Reviewer
April 29th 2023


5841 Comments

Album Rating: 3.3

Three listens down, it does grow marginally each time (at least for me). But yeah, pretty weak for The National

theBoneyKing
April 29th 2023


24381 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Good read, RowBro! You will be missed.

Dwap
April 29th 2023


393 Comments


Lol



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