First Appeared in The Music Box, March 2011, Volume 18, #3
Written by John Metzger
Mon March 28, 2011, 06:30 AM CDT
None of The Nationalís albums are immediately accessible. In fact, the bandís career, like its studio efforts, requires a period of acclimation. Nevertheless, each of its endeavors typically is dotted with at least a few easier points of entry. As its songs become familiar, they also become addictive. In other words, The National is the kind of outfit that would have fit quite neatly into the music landscape of the early 1980s, when college radio stations and independent record stores still carried tremendous sway in the marketplace.
On its fifth album High Violet, The National merely tweaked the formula that it has been using since its debut. This doesnít mean that the collection is a regurgitated remake, designed simply to please the outfitís avid fans. Rather, the set stands on its own as an amalgamation of its predecessors. High Violet maintains the complexities that The National typically has brought to its material. At the same time, though, its arrangements have grown increasingly refined, while its outlook has matured.
In many ways, High Violet epitomizes the disillusion that has spread throughout the populace of the Western world. Its dark, moody songs are populated by characters who are oppressed not only by love but also by the crushing weight of responsibility. As difficult as they may be, however, over the course of High Violet, relationships seem to be what matter most. This, perhaps, is a reflection of front man Matt Berningerís entrance into the realm of fatherhood.
On paper, the lyrics to High Violetís tracks donít amount to much. Tracing elliptical patterns, they swirl, loop, and repeat, offering cryptic reflections with meanings that arenít immediately apparent. Within the framework of the hazy atmospheres that The National concocts, however, the words take shape as they pull moods and gain strength from their surroundings.
With a deep, resonant baritone, Berninger often sounds like a cross between Nick Cave (Runaway) and Morrissey (Lemonworld). The music matches, too ó so well, in fact, that High Violetís epic centerpiece easily could stand as a lost track from The Smiths. At other moments, The National builds its arrangements around the cosmic shimmer of The Church (Sorrow), though the grand ambitions of Arcade Fire and The Decemberists are never far from reach.
High Violet obtains its dramatic tension from the give-and-take between the songsí energetic, rhythmic drive and the gloomy weariness of Berningerís vocals. More often than not, drums and bass guitar combine to propel the material forward. They not only lend intensity to the arrangements, but they also act as a guide that pulls the listener through the languidly disorienting atmospherics, providing, in a sense, hope for those heartbroken souls who are lost in an urban jungle of desperate loneliness.
High Violet, like all of The Nationalís outings, isnít likely to garner much attention from a mainstream audience. As masterfully constructed as it is, the set requires too much patience for it to appeal to those who gravitate toward bands that strive to give their fans an instantly gratifying emotional release. Even so, High Violet most certainly will broaden The Nationalís reach. An outfit that always has been wiser than its age would suggest, The National has assembled an album that not only is cohesive, but also is deeply rewarding.
Of Further Interest...
High Violet is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2011 The Music Box