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Jeremy Aaron 05/11/10 04:54 PM

National, The - High Violet
 
The National - High Violet
Record Label: 4AD
Release Date: May 11, 2010

At a gathering at my apartment this past Saturday, I was talking with a few guys about music and such when The National's "Mistaken for Strangers" came up in the music rotation, prompting a story about how, at a Boston show a couple of years back, lead singer Matt Berninger downed an entire bottle of wine during the performance before proceeding to smash the bottle. I've never had the privilege of seeing The National live, and though that anecdote strikes up an odd image, it's not entirely surprising. The band seems to champion that segment of folks stuck in the middle and damned to stay there, people who've left behind their days of chugging Keystone Light with their college career but whose daily trivialities still provoke the onset of that maddeningly irresistible urge to treat oneself to a hangover, people whose attachment to their office chair, frustration with company politics, and overexposure to ambient fluorescent lighting have initiated the slow but accelerating descent down that slippery slope toward sociopathy. And even if you're the type to appreciate the humor that being surrounded by morons affords and can take just about everything with a boulder of salt, you don't have to look far to find a real-life analog for The National's protagonists, like just over the cubicle wall at the Paxil-popper in the next desk. Yeah, their songs are for that poor motherfucker. And even if you're still in high school or college, like many readers will certainly be, listen up, friends-- you might not relate now, but this is what you bastards have to look forward to.

But maybe I'm reading too much between the lines, attributing intentionality that isn't really there. It's true that Berninger's lyrics often carry universally applicable sentiments-- he sings "Sorrow found me when I was young," and "I don't want to get over you," on the appropriately titled "Sorrow", thoughts that could come from the mind of any auto mechanic, construction worker or cake baker. However, his self-serious, weary tone seems most representative of the modern office drone, and when he offers up, "I don't have the drugs to sort it out," on "Afraid of Anyone", it sounds like pure middle-class disaffection. Aside from the financial woes alluded to in the single "Bloodbuzz Ohio", we're not given too many details about the causes behind Berninger's ruminations. While this might just be to leave them open to interpretation and aid in relatability, it may also be that there isn't any significant reason at all. His need for escape expressed in "Lemonworld" suggests a tug-of-war between melodrama and anhedonia, a mind burdened by the tedium of charmed suburban life that leads us to needlessly magnify trifles until we just want to let go of it all. In such a way, The National's music in general, and High Violet specifically, probably wouldn't have made much sense a generation ago but provide a sort of neat personification of right now, the modern era of adult ennui.

So I guess it goes without saying that High Violet isn't light listening or great driving music for summer. However, anyone coming into it with Boxer and Alligator under their belts certainly knew better than to expect that from it, anyway. Musically, it's a similar record with subtle orchestrations, and like Boxer, it's a tremendous drumming album, with Bryan Devendorf's bombastic work behind the kit featured prominently in the mix. Despite its primarily slow, creeping melodies, it's hard to refrain from tapping out the rhythms on whatever horizontal surface is in front of you. Piano and gently post-punk-tinged guitar brings it all to a slow boil that varies from ominous, like the almost Interpol-esque "Anyone's Ghost", to refined and folky, like "Runaway". Their dark, brooding sound is illuminated like chiaroscuro by bright orchestral accompaniments, which usually accentuate the feeling of disenchantment. Only rarely, as on "England", the horn arrangement sounds pompous, ceremonial, almost majestic. And certainly not least of all is perhaps The National's most recognizable quality, Berninger's rich baritone. Despite sounding thoroughly fatigued most of the time, there's so much depth of expression in his voice that he commands attention like few other vocalists can. All the band's elements coalesce in a remarkably cohesive way to elicit the desired moods.

Much like Boxer, High Violet is the type of album that might take a little time to resonate. There's very little in the way of overt hooks, but looking back on Boxer, songs like "Mistaken for Strangers" and the one-two punch of "Green Gloves" and "Slow Show" remain firmly entrenched in my brain. In much the same way, High Violet was a joy the first time around, and better with each successive spin. Who's to say which of its moments are going to stand the test of time for me years down the road? I'll say this: it will be a real pleasure finding out.

Track Listing1. Terrible Love (4:39)
2. Sorrow (3:25)
3. Anyone's Ghost (2:54)
4. Little Faith (4:36)
5. Afraid of Anyone (4:19)
6. Bloodbuzz Ohio (4:35)
7. Lemonworld (3:23)
8. Runaway (5:33)
9. Conversation 16 (4:18)
10. England (5:40)
11. Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks (4:12)


Check out The National on Myspace and last.fm.

Preview/Buy the album at Amazon.mp3.

Gregory Robson 05/11/10 05:11 PM

One of your finest reviews to date, if not, the finest. This makes me want to try harder. The band should take the time and write you a thank-you note. Nice work.

Alex_Weiland 05/11/10 06:04 PM

I Believe this is their best album, and I don't believe that they've made a bad record.

"Fake Empire" & "All The Wine" are amazing songs.

thiseternalsnow 05/11/10 06:20 PM

I'm thinking this is my favorite record of 2010 thus far.

Chris Collum 05/11/10 06:54 PM

Such a great album...don't know if I like it as much as Boxer yet though...
And excellent review, Jeremy. This is the best review I've read on this site in a very, very long time.

Gregory Robson 05/11/10 07:05 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Tbs738 (Post 67221542)
Such a great album...don't know if I like it as much as Boxer yet though...
And excellent review, Jeremy. This is the best review I've read on this site in a very, very long time.

I totally agree. It is indeed.

Burn_Burn_Burn 05/11/10 09:13 PM

What a lovely worded review, Jeremy.
Bravo!
I also love High Violet..think it's their best yet.

Shakriel 05/11/10 10:35 PM

Great review!

Really love this album. This has over 400 hits on my last.fm, second only to Circa Survive.

cereal4life 05/12/10 12:54 AM

Good review and no doubt will be a good album! I'm yet to get it.

Daigle lol 05/12/10 07:04 AM

Such an incredible CD, and an AWESOME review.

Steve Henderson 05/12/10 07:21 AM

Love your writing Jeremy. Well done.

Gregory Robson 05/12/10 07:34 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Steve Henderson (Post 67248522)
Love your writing Jeremy. Well done.

Yeah, this was as good an editorial piece as I've seen on this site in a long time.

ÖzgürKurtoglu 05/12/10 07:42 AM

Probably the best written review I've seen on this site ever, simply because it transcends the general restrictions review-writing usually forces onto the writer. Great job, Jeremy. The review suits the album very well, in my opinion; does it justice, so to speak.

sean_tbl 05/12/10 08:00 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by ÖzgürKurtoglu (Post 67249122)
Probably the best written review I've seen on this site ever, simply because it transcends the general restrictions review-writing usually forces onto the writer. Great job, Jeremy. The review suits the album very well, in my opinion; does it justice, so to speak.


I agree, this was almost exactly what I was going to say. I've read all the reviews on this site in the last who knows how many years and this is by far the best work, and so fitting for such an album, thanks!

This band is just to good in that non-obvious way, people either get them or they don't. I think it's certainly an older person's band, and by older I mean 25 and on. It just speaks to you. Ah I love it. Everyone needs to really give them a chance, listen to it at least 5 times through before you dismiss it.

tpnations 05/12/10 08:06 AM

Great review. Great album.