The National – High Violet

Rating: ★★★★½

When this album first came to me I must admit that it was not as immediately as enticing as I had hoped.  Steady listening rotations slowly worked this album into the expected experience that I had hoped for from The National‘s High Violet.  While I’m not coming out to say that this is the band’s best work (time will tell friends), I’ll admit that their continued growth and attention to details makes the group unstoppable, as they put out records that continue to be played on repeat at my house, and that of all my close associates.

“Terrible Love” begins rather slowly. sneaking its way to a catastrophic end of sonic force.  Matt Berninger’s vocals really are something other worldly, as demonstrated here; it’s as if you’re listening to your father or grandfather tell a story of his trials and tribulations, as demonstrated by this opening track.

Early press discussed the darker dimension of the album, and you can get that feeling, even if you went by the track titles alone.  But, songs such as “Sorrow” and “Anyone’s Ghost” indicate that something went missing in the life of the narrator, which we can assume might be Berninger himself.  It’s all very melancholic, and is increased by the baritone vocal quality, but the darkness is what makes this album so striking, like everyone’s favorite lyric from “Conversation 16,” “I was afraid I’d eat your brains/cause I’m evil.”  It’s interesting trying to decipher between singer and narrator, as clearly these are the dark times of love for one of our two heroes.

While a lot of the praise for The National‘s dynamic is always given to the Dessner duo, this album clearly demonstrates the power that Bryan Devendorf wields in the band.  Whether it be his machine gun snare hits, his cymbal work, or his precision drum fills, he is the one piece that continues to amaze as you listen to High Violet (“Mr November” anyone?).  Still, one of the strengths of the band does rely upon the Dessner’s usage of varying dynamics, even those that are most subtle.  For instance, there’s a moment in “Little Faith” where everything seems to empty out, albeit very briefly, before going back into the song.  Such attention to detail is used time and time again like the accompanying strings in “Afraid of Everyone” that eventually meet up with a little discordant guitar; all this happens before the number even sets off entirely.

You continue through this collection of songs, and each song strikes a different chord within.  “Bloodbuzz Ohio” is probably the most straightforward rock song on the album, but you can’t help but feel the alienation in the song as Berninger croons that “Ohio don’t remember me.”  Once again, the loud-soft dynamic, even used for just one phrase, makes the lyrics, and the song, hit some sort of nerve for the listener.   And you can juxtapose the rock element with a song like “Runaway” that seems to sort of ebb and flow in the middle of the song.  If it weren’t for the subtle touches and vocals, this could very well fall under some folk realm, and yet the song seemingly climbs to a climactic point that it never quite reaches, forever holding back, holding you, the listener, back.

In its closing statement, High Violet, finds Matt really pushing his vocals, yanking every bit of emotion he has left out of his larynx.  As always, the group never fails to make a grand sweeping move with their closing moments, as echoing vocals join in here, you find yourself lost in the emotive qualities of the band.  This is precisely what makes The National one of the best bands around these days, utilizing every little nuance to craft the most emotionally taxing and bewildering music you’ll find, then begging you to come back and listen all over again.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/The-National-Bloodbuzz-Ohio.mp3]

Download: The National – Bloodbuzz Ohio [MP3]

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