The National's eighth record came from prosaic beginnings. Director Mike Mills -- not to be confused with the bassist from R.E.M., as he so often is -- invited Matt Berninger to collaborate, a notion that quickly spawned two projects: a short film from Mills and a new album from the National, both entitled I Am Easy to Find.
Mills is credited as a co-producer on the album, a bit of a stretch considering how he is by no means a musician, but his contributions did indeed help the album take shape. Beginning with a clutch of outtakes from Sleep Well Beast, the National and Mills formed these scraps into the elusive, shape-shifting I Am Easy to Find. Lasting a lengthy 64 minutes, I Am Easy to Find paints intimacy on an epic scale: everything sounds hushed, as private as a secret, yet there's a sweep to the execution.
Considering this grand scale along with the album's origins and Mills' presence, it's tempting to call I Am Easy to Find cinematic, yet that suggests a possible narrative cohesion to its 16 songs when the National aren't interested in a story, they're concerned with impressions. The songs of Matt Berninger and Carin Besser are contained units where each line fits together tightly, an aesthetic that ties together the album without quite lending the album a theme; if this music is cinematic, it's the equivalent of an evening's worth of tasteful experimental films.
What distinguishes the album is the National's openness toward collaboration, a notion that is not limited to Mills. Highlighted by Sharon Van Etten and Gail Ann Dorsey -- a veteran of David Bowie's band -- the National invite a number of female vocalists to sing on the album, lending I Am Easy to Find a welcome sense of openness.
Where the National can often seem hermetically sealed -- such insularity is a key to their appeal -- I Am Easy to Find has loose ends and picturesque detours in addition to a revolving cast of characters and a suggestion of mess that give the album an appealingly unkempt sense of humanity.