The National, one of the world’s most popular indie bands, returns with their ninth studio album, “First Two Pages of Frankenstein,” released today on 4AD Records. The album is the band’s first in four years and features collaborations with Taylor Swift, Phoebe Bridgers and Sufjan Stevens. Pentagram worked with The National on the creative direction and design of the visual identity, packaging and promotional campaign for the album.
The Pentagram team collaborated closely on the project with The National bassist Scott Devendorf, who was a designer in Pentagram’s New York office in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and lead singer Matt Berninger, also a former graphic designer. The National has been characterized by The Guardian as “literate rock that presents…as artily somber” and “one of the most nuanced 21st-century” bands. “First Two Pages of Frankenstein” follows a challenging period when the members of the group explored various side projects and Berninger suffered from writer’s block.
The album’s enigmatic design is built around an offbeat snapshot taken by a friend of the band, a portrait of his son holding a mannequin head sporting a “My Name Is Paul” sticker. The image was processed, adding texture and color to evoke the record’s tone and spirit. The playful photo of this artificial man is a counterpoint to the unusual title, which was inspired by the desolate landscapes described in the opening passages of Mary Shelley’s classic novel. (Berninger has said the book helped him work through his creative block.)
The graphics have been extended to a wide range of applications, from various album formats, vinyl versions and collector’s editions, to merchandise like bookmarks, blankets, buttons, t-shirts, guitar picks and drumsticks, as well as posters, backstage passes and signage for the band’s 2023 world tour. (The band also sent mannequin heads with a “Paul” sticker to record stores to promote the album’s release.)
Pentagram previously worked with The National on the design of their 2017 album “Sleep Well Beast,” which won the Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album and was nominated for Best Recording Package. Pentagram also collaborated with the band and designer Paul Carlos on the design of “Light Years,” a book of concert photos by Graham MacIndoe.