Friday, May 14, 2010

Album Review: The National – High Violet

Oh my, oh my, how nervous I get whenever I listen to a new National record for the first time. It’s what happens to me whenever a band I love above most others puts out new music, and is probably driven by a fear of disappointment and/or dislike. The idea that The National could release an album I didn’t love to bits and pieces caused me great distress, and explains why it took me a while to actually put up, shut up, and listen to High Violet.

I don’t love it as much as my favorite National record, Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers. I’ll go ahead and admit that right now. But I love it all the same. There’s something about this band that seems to get stronger as they go along, perhaps it’s the whole maturation process. Whatever it is, The National makes some of the finest music to wallow to that I’ve ever heard. For some reason, in my mind they often seem like sonic equivalents of the (brilliant) plays of Tennessee Williams, imperfect slivers of American Gothic steeped in layers of sorrow and yet achingly beautiful. The songs on High Violet only add to this parallel.

It’s a sullen, sulky record, which is exactly what we National fans expect. “I set a fire/just to see what it kills,” broods Matt Berninger in the fantastic “Little Faith,” just one of many perfectly gloomy lines contained in High Violet. Mr. Berninger for his part is in top vocal form, his voice raw and exposed once again. The band of brothers behind him turn in another tour de force, driving the album with tight, taut guitars and bass and another fine drumming performance. Musically, the excellent “Lemonworld” reminds me of a slowed-down “Mistaken for Strangers” from the sublime Boxer, but seems to be even more melancholy somehow, as Berninger laments “I guess I’ve always been a delicate man.” “Bloodbuzz Ohio,” “England,” “Runaway,” and all the rest are utterly captivating in their despair and dejection.

High Violet is an album of regrets, and it’s beguiling in its unhappiness. Once more, the five Ohio boys turned New Yorkers have made music to soothe my weary soul. The wait for High Violet, agonizing though it may have been, was well worth it. When it comes to The National, being sad feels pretty good.

mp3: England (The National from High Violet)
(song removed by request, don't blame us)


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