This Week - The National, Laura Marling, Alice In Chains
Few bands make a trio of really great albums and The National have now made it four in a row. Alligator, Boxer, High Violet and now Trouble Will Find Me continues the impressive run from an American band at the top of their game. Unlike the immediacy of Alligator and High Violet, Trouble Will Find Me is a slow burner, an album of subtle complexity and hidden messages which have to be teased from the music on repeat listens. Vocalist Matt Berninger delivers his unique melancholy tones throughout, with a few pleasant surprises: Heavenfaced is excellent while Humiliation is a gloriously successful experiment of dark chamber pop. Don't Swallow The Cap is right up there with the best, as is opener I Should Live In Salt, and to finish Pink Rabbits is several ideas in one, transforming and evolving to make way for the wonderful Hard To Find. The National continue to enthral and beguile with wondrous effect.
In the same week as The National make it four from four, Laura Marling does the same. From tentative, charming début Alas, I Cannot Swim to the more confident duo I Speak Because I Can and A Creature I Don't Know, Marling has expanded her musical landscaping further with Once I Was An Eagle. The album magnificently builds through an introduction of connected songs (You Know into Breathe is especially slick) into the brilliant Master Hunter, with Marling in full flow. Devil's Resting Place concludes the first half before a more subdued collection: the lovely country waltz of Where Can I Go?, vocals, keyboards and guitars blending perfectly. Once is equally arresting, as Marling reminisces on her childhood, and the dark tones of When Were You Happy? (And How Long Has That Been) brings in yet another character to the stage of a musician who is more of an actor than a singer. And while the album's encore is not as strong as its prelude and centrepiece, it is consistently compelling and utterly absorbing.
Veteran alt-metal legends Alice In Chains reunited in 2005 following the death of Layne Staley and their first album without their original singer was the heartfelt and beautiful Black Gives Way To Blue, an album of tribute and nostalgia. Given that there was a fourteen year break, and mainly due to the steerage of Jerry Cantrell and lead singer William DuVall, Alice In Chains sound remarkably familiar and refreshing. New album The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here is spirited and powerful, often lapsing into mournful dirge, while soaring above their muddy sound. The seven-minute Phantom Limb is an obvious highlight and the venomous Stone has echoes of Queens Of The Stone Age and Tool (puns intended?). Among the swampy metal, there are moments of clarity: Voices is uplifting and melodic and closer Choke is a mash of sounds and ideas echoing back to 1992's Dirt.