The National has gotten its share of accolades over the past six or seven years, stacks of cover stories and five-star reviews, but perhaps its greatest accomplishment doesn’t get enough attention.
As the world’s collective attention span has shrunk to the size of a smartphone’s screen, it’s painfully easy for a band to become old news within months, especially a band that rarely makes the grand gesture and instead trades on delicious subtleties.
Even as an insistence on chasing shiny objects has become an epidemic, The National has deliberately and painstakingly built a career of substance. Somehow, it has commanded attention at a time when paying attention is out of fashion.
“We’ve had to earn every little bit of success that we’ve had. We’ve never caught a wind, you know,” said guitarist Aaron Dessner. “We’ve been incredibly fortunate because we were able to quit our jobs and play music, but we really haven’t been the kind of band that’s benefited from trends, or radio, or mainstream media.
“Each record has been hard-fought and hard-won.”
The National, which performs tonight at the Iroquois Amphitheater, released its sixth full-length album in May, called “Trouble Will Find Me.” It’s another treasure of moody, intricately woven gems, pop music for obsessives and habituates of the fringe.
There was an interesting difference in the making of this one, however. The National, made up of Cincinnati natives who long ago left for Brooklyn, is famous for difficult births. Recording sessions drag on for months as they second-guess themselves and butt heads.
But “Trouble Will Find Me” came relatively easy. Dessner, who writes much of the band’s music with his brother, Bryce, found himself overflowing with ideas after the band had finished touring behind 2010’s “High Violet” album. He gave some to singer Matt Berninger just to share, but he was smitten and began writing lyrics.
“We didn’t set any kind of goals about when we were going to be done, or even that we were making a record,” Dessner said. “He was just listening to it as music, and then songs started to come, which is different than in the past, because we’d have knowledge that we were making an album.
“It was more open and relaxed, and we were open to experimenting with different types of songs. ‘Trouble Will Find Me’ definitely has a more diverse sound and diverse song types.”
Another reason the album came more easily, Dessner said, is that the band’s confidence has fully blossomed — nearly 15 years after forming. One might think that any band responsible for a record as authoritative as “Alligator” or as incandescent as “Cherry Tree” would be fine in that department. Not so.
“With this record there was more self-confidence as a group because we’ve accepted that there’s a chemistry in the band that’s powerful, that works, so rather than fight it or try and change it, we decided to embrace it,” Dessner said.
Perhaps the greatest example of the band’s new confidence came May 5, a few weeks before “Trouble Will Find Me” was released. The band was part of a series at MoMA PSI, an exhibition space in New York affiliated with the Museum of Modern Art. Artist Ragnar Kjartansson’s idea was to have the band play its song “Sorrow” for six consecutive hours.
Kjartansson called it “A Lot of Sorrow,” and it was about finding new meaning through repetition in something familiar, perhaps even a kind of spirituality. It was also inherently funny, which appealed to a band known for its dark humor.
“It seemed weirdly familiar, that sense of humor mixed with emotional gravity,” Dessner said. “I think it was one of the best days in the history of the band, if not the best, just because we realized a lot about ourselves. Our capacity for endurance, the way in which one of our songs can stand up.
“It’s a four-minute dark pop song, and it actually felt like it took on another level through repetition, and even by the end I wasn’t tired of playing it. It made us love playing it even more.”
Jeffrey Lee Puckett can be reached at (502) 582-4160, firstname.lastname@example.org, and on Twitter @JLeePuckett.