Verging on a concept album, The National’s eighth studio release reflects a ripening extension of their estimable talents and evolving style, bringing into the foreground the band’s collaborations with women—particularly the many musicians and featured vocalists sharing near-equal duties here with lead singer Matt Berninger. Longtime fans might find themselves caught off-guard by this surprising shift in sonic landscape. Sweeter melodies and softer vocal textures emerge, in contrast with the band’s tendency toward heavier tonality and spiraling existential angst. Moments of languid chamber-pop formality register as composed (in every sense), courtesy of Bryce Dessner’s orchestrations plus a string section. A cappella interludes from the Brooklyn Youth Chorus weave in like a dreamlike Greek chorus, startling on the “Dust Swirls in Strange Light” intro, yet rambunctious rhythms skitter through “Rylan” and the “You Had Your Soul with You” single. Enigmatic, oft-witty, whimsical lyrics grace the title track and the bittersweet half-spoken/half-sung “Not in Kansas,” where Berninger spins meandering Ohio-steeped memories peppered with R.E.M. references. Sonic production offers quiet and quality with warm personal touches. As with much of their catalog, its appeal is an intriguing slow burn, drawing one’s mind and spirit in more with each listen.