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Nadia Tehran - Dozakh: All Lovers Hell Music Album Reviews

The debut album from the Iranian-Swedish artist offers a fascinatingly dark take on romantic love, filled with images of violence and devastation.
Dozakh: All Lovers Hell, the debut album from Iranian-Swedish artist Nadia Tehran, begins with a recording of her immigrant father, Ali Kardar, saying that he’s not afraid of death. He’s in the middle of describing a near-fatal experience during his time as a soldier in the Iran-Iraq war. “I wake up with unbelievable pain that isn’t just pain from my legs, it’s pain through my whole soul,” he recounts in Swedish. “I didn’t even realize that my leg was gone.” And with that harrowing image, Tehran sets up Dozakh, an album examining emotional purgatory and devastation in all its forms.

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The National - I Am Easy to Find Music Album Reviews

With a cast of female vocalists guiding and redirecting the songs, the National’s eighth album is their largest, longest, and most daring.

There’s a lot to marvel at on any National album: the regality, the musicianship, the compositional flourishes, the ornate displays of sublimated rage. The ex-Brooklynites are among the smallest handful of ’00s bands to close out the ’10s with a higher stock than what they entered with; theirs is one of the richest dynamics in indie rock. But for all they’re good at, every album has been first and foremost a litmus test on singer Matt Berninger. To enjoy the National, you’ve got to enjoy him.


Anybody who’s followed the band for seven albums has likely done so because they’ve connected with Berninger’s dapper hangdog persona, a Cary Grant interpretation of Leonard Cohen. He’s the kind of singer who can express listeners’ ugliest insecurities yet somehow make them sound like a brag, forever the star of his own movie where not much happens but it’s all beautifully shot. It’s a real feat spinning a fantasy out of feelings so messy. Even for listeners growing tired of his grousing voiceovers, or those who never liked it much to begin with, the band’s form-breaking eighth album I Am Easy To Find offers another way in. For the first time, Berninger is just a piece of this universe, not the center.

On nearly every song Berninger is accompanied and sometimes silenced by a rotation of featured female vocalists who step in to offer perspective, commentary, and dissent. It’s perhaps yet another lesson internalized from Cohen, whose songs regularly called on a chorus of women as their voice of reason. And like Cohen, the National have recruited some of the best singers out, among them Lisa Hannigan, Mina Tindle, Kate Stables, Sharon Van Etten, and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, whose spotlight “Dust Swirls in Strange Light” benches Berninger all together. Most revelatory of all is Gail Ann Dorsey, David Bowie’s longtime bassist and backing singer, who heralds the album’s new direction midway through opener “You Had Your Soul With You.” Her extraordinary voice of saffron arrives like a divine intervention, instantly parting a track that had previously been National-by-numbers.

The album’s guest roster shores up the National’s greatest critical vulnerability—the myopic white, male vantage—so conveniently that it’s tempting to read it as cynical. In interviews, the band has been more than a little defensive about the choice, insisting it wasn’t made out of some patronizing notion of allyship. It’s the execution, though, that casts aside doubts. These women aren’t window dressing, they’re focal points, and each subtly redirects the music to previously unexplored directions. They approach these songs from the most daring angles of attack, creating an air of unpredictability that even 2017’s electronics-laced Sleep Well Beast couldn’t sustain. Their presence also turns the lyrics, some written by Berninger’s wife Carin Besser, from a monologue into a conversation. The competing perspectives seem to humble the singer, challenging him and shaking him from his own head. “I know I can get attached and then unattached to my own versions of others,” he concedes on “The Pull of You.”

All those outside voices aren’t the only reason I Am Easy To Find can feel like a remix of a National album. Just as those strong collaborators seize the control away from the band, so has the record’s producer Mike Mills, a director by trade who incorporated some of this music into a tear-jerking short film of the same name. In the band’s telling, Mills wasn’t shy about editing their work, often stripping songs of the elements the band was most excited about (that may be why so few of Sleep Well Beasts’ U2-isms have carried through). So although the album is the band’s biggest yet, with a cast of dozens including 13 violinists alone, it rarely feels bulky. Only the too-Arcade-Fire-for-comfort “Where Is Her Head” succumbs to grandiosity, prioritizing spectacle over purpose.

At 64 minutes, I Am Easy To Find is also the National’s longest album, which is a mixed blessing. It provides room to luxuriate and admire all these guest voices as the art pieces they are while getting sucked into unhurried treasures like “Quiet Light” and “Oblivions,” both among the band’s most weightless and sublime. But the record can drag, sometimes badly. “Rylan” sounds like a rewrite of every other mid-tempo National number directed at a character with a moderately memorable name, while “Hairpin Turns” adds ammunition the most frequent dismissal of this band: They’re boring.

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The complementary inverse of boring, of course, is consistent, an adjective that’s similarly dogged this band for the last decade (it’s meant as praise, but more often reads as shorthand for nothing new to see here). Between the consecutive departures of Sleep Well Beast and I Am Easy To Find, the band has finally started pushing back against their reputation for playing it safe. If some of their gambits sound less risky than they actually are, it’s mostly because they’ve pulled them off so well.

I Am Easy To Find’s lyrics, too, celebrate risk. On “Not In Kansas,” Berninger fears that he may not be the type of guy to punch a Nazi, though he’d love to be. And while the album’s title sentiment could be read as romantic in a certain light—a sweet reassurance—the title track instead casts it as a passionless pledge between a couple too tired to fight but too vested to split. The words reek of defeat; there’s nothing alluring about them. In contrast, on “Hey Rosey,” Gail Ann Dorsey outlines a far more dangerous love, one like a razor blade and a radiant flame, and Berninger can barely contain his excitement. “There’s never really any safety in it!” he swoons, as the music crests and trembles deliriously. In love, as in art, easy is boring. The unknown? Now that he can get worked up about.


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