THE NATIONAL drop surprise new album ‘Laugh Track’

The National
Photo Credit: Graham MacIndoe

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 4AD released 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. Revelling 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.”

Watch the visualizer for ‘Deep End (Paul’s in Pieces)’ – BELOW:

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. For other shows tickets and additional information, click HERE.

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 has scored five top 10 albums on The Billboard 200.

the national

Laugh Track tracklist:

Alphabet City
Deep End (Paul’s in Pieces)
Weird Goodbyes (feat. Bon Iver)
Turn Off the House
Laugh Track (feat. Phoebe Bridgers)
Space Invader
Coat on a Hook
Tour Manager
Crumble (feat. Rosanne Cash)
Smoke Detector

Buy/stream Laugh Track HERE.

The National on tour:

September 21 – Dublin, IRE – 3 Arena *
September 23 – Leeds, UK – First Direct Arena *
September 24 – Glasgow, UK – OVO Hydro Arena *
September 26 – London, UK – Alexandra Palace * SOLD OUT
September 27 – London, UK – Alexandra Palace * SOLD OUT
September 29 – Amsterdam, NL – Ziggo Dome ^ SOLD OUT
September 30 – Berlin, DE – Max-Schmeling-Halle ^ SOLD OUT
October 1 – Munich, DE – Zenith ^
October 4 – Madrid, ES – WiZink Center ^
October 5 – Porto, PT – Super Bock Arena ^ SOLD OUT
October 6 – Lisbon, PT – Campo Pequeno ^ SOLD OUT
October 7 – Lisbon, PT – Campo Pequeno ^
November 10 – San Francisco, CA – Bill Graham Civic Auditorium %
November 11 – San Diego, CA – Cal Coast Credit Union Open Air Theatre %
November 13 – Phoenix, AZ – Arizona Financial Theatre %
November 14 – Albuquerque, NM – Kiva Auditorium %
November 16 – Tulsa, OK – Tulsa Theater %
November 17 – Austin, TX – Moody Center %
November 18 – Houston, TX – Lawn at White Oak %
November 19 – Irving, TX – The Pavilion at Toyota Music Factory %
February 28, 2024 – Brisbane, Australia – Riverstage ~
March 1, 2024 – Sydney, Australia – Aware Super Theatre ~
March 5, 2024 – Melbourne, Australia – Sidney Myer Music Bowl ~
March 9, 2024 – Perth, Australia – Kings Park & Botanic Garden ~

*Soccer Mommy
^ Bartees Strange
% Hand Habits
~ Very Special Guests Fleet Foxes, Annie Hamilton


Xsnoize Author
Mark Millar is the founder of XS Noize and looks after the daily running of the website as well as conducting interviews for the XS Noize Podcast. Mark's favourite album is Achtung Baby by U2.

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