Anchored by evocative melodies and an enthralling lyrical narrative, First Two Pages of Frankenstein signals a thrilling new chapter in the band’s beloved discography. The 11-song album was produced by The National at Long Pond Studios in upstate New York and features guest appearances by Taylor Swift, Phoebe Bridgers and Sufjan Stevens.
The follow-up to 2019’s top five hit album I Am Easy To Find, First Two Pages of Frankenstein was initially stalled while lead singer Matt Berninger navigated “a very dark spot where I couldn’t come up with lyrics or melodies at all, and that period lasted for over a year. Even though we’d always been anxious and argued quite a lot whenever we were working on a record, this was the first time it ever felt like maybe things really had come to an end.” Instead, The National “managed to come back together and approach everything from a different angle, and because of that we arrived at what feels like a new era for the band,” according to guitarist/pianist Bryce Dessner, whose bandmates also include his brother Aaron (guitar/piano/bass) as well as brothers Scott Devendorf (bass, guitar) and Bryan Devendorf (drums).
First Two Pages of Frankenstein channels the group’s revitalized chemistry into a body of work that beautifully balances elegant musicality with the National’s more idiosyncratic impulses. Tracks such as “Grease in Your Hair” and “Ice Machines” were road-tested in 2022 before they were recorded, allowing the band to hone the material in real time (another song, “Weird Goodbyes” featuring Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, was released as a standalone track last August). “To me the power of this record has to do with the intentionality and structure of the music meeting with a lot of accidental magic,” says Aaron Dessner.
Swift duets with Berninger on the luminous “The Alcott,” continuing her recent string of collaborations with members of The National on her chart-topping albums folklore and evermore and Aaron Dessner’s Big Red Machine project. The song finds Berninger and Swift inhabiting the roles of a couple attempting to resurrect a troubled relationship, forging a finely drawn story nearly novelistic in scope. “It’s about two people with a long history returning to a place and trying to relive a certain moment in time,” says Berninger. “It’s got the feeling of a last-ditch effort to hold onto the relationship, but there’s a hint of something positive where you can see the beginnings of a reconnection.”