The National used to be known for agonising recording sessions that would result in band brawls between its five members. Singer Matt Berninger, guitarists Aaron and Bryce Dessner, drummer Bryan Devendorf and bassist Scott Devendorf would stress the most minute of details, coming close to the abyss many, many times. But with the release of 2023’s First Two Pages of Frankenstein, the group discussed how the recording process was less stressful and more improvisational—and, as it turns out, more fruitful than anyone had realised. Just five months later, the band dropped a second LP of 2023, Laugh Track, comprising songs from roughly the same period—a Frankenstein’s monster of sorts. While Frankenstein was hemmed together by the precise compositional expertise of the band, Laugh Track is comparatively off the cuff and loose. It includes a 2022 collaboration with Bon Iver titled “Weird Goodbyes”, as well as a Frankenstein outtake with Phoebe Bridgers that serves as the title track. Rather than dwell on granular specificities, the band lets songs breathe and pick up the pace and be driven by Bryan Devendorf’s drums in ways they haven’t in a long time. In particular, the nearly eight-minute album closer “Smoke Detector” was hammered out during sound checks, and feels nearly ramshackle as Berninger seemingly freestyles rapid-fire lyrics over—under, really—the band letting loose.