The National, I Am Easy To Find (4AD) ****

“I THINK I'm hittin' a wall,” confesses The National’s lead singer, Matt Berninger, on Where Is Her Head, the standout track from the American band’s eighth studio album.

It’s a sentiment that was shared by his fellow band members in late 2017 when, exhausted and considering a sabbatical after touring the Grammy-winning Sleep Well Beast, acclaimed film director Mike Mills offered to direct a video for the ex-Brooklynites.

The band sent Mills fragments of 15 new songs, and the seeds of I Am Easy To Find were sewn, with the proposed single music video evolving into a 20-minute short film depicting the story of one woman’s life, played by Oscar-winning actress Alicia Vikander.

Now influenced by Mills’s visuals, a reinvigorated The National worked on polishing those initial fragments, and the resulting album –their longest yet – represents their most dramatic shift in the past decade.

For the first time, almost every song on the album sees Berninger’s baritone augmented by a succession of female vocalists. On rousing opener You Had Your Soul With You, longtime Bowie-collaborator Gail Ann Dorsey arrives late to upgrade a classic cut into something beautifully cutting, while on the title track Kate Stables, of This Is The Kit, furnishes a humbling chorus with an extra pensive edge.

The sustained presence of these guests – Sharon Van Etten and Lisa Hannigan also among them – lends even more intimacy to lyrics often co-written by Berninger and his wife, Carin Besser, transforming melancholic monologues into crestfallen conversation.

It isn’t all new, however, with long-time live favourite Rylan finally given a recorded release, and the humorous, pop-culture pillaging Not In Kansas harking back to the band’s 2005 triumph, Alligator.

Their presence alongside a new direction serves to remind us that, for this band of enduring forty-somethings, a lacklustre album is certainly not easy to find.

Adam Steel