Plumbiferous Media

High Violet - The National

May 13th 2010
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High Violet - The NationalThe National
High Violet
Score: 92

Just over ten years after Brook­lyn indie band The Nation­al was found­ed, the band has released its fifth LP, High Vio­let. Over those ten years, the band has become pro­gres­sive­ly bet­ter-known, cul­mi­nat­ing in their last release, the crit­i­cal­ly acclaimed Box­er. With High Vio­let, The Nation­al has tak­en its suc­cess­es from each of those ear­li­er albums and dis­tilled them into the log­i­cal pro­gres­sion of that work, cre­at­ing a new album that is more than any­thing else a success.

With High Vio­let, The Nation­al has con­tin­ued its ten­den­cy towards reserved but active instru­men­tals. Qui­et, care­ful bass lines under­ly each track, empha­siz­ing the emo­tion­al impact of the track expert­ly. Fol­low­ing their tra­di­tion, near­ly every track on High Vio­let is beau­ti­ful­ly intro­duced, with per­haps the best exam­ple being “Eng­land,” whose slow, soar­ing intro­duc­tion sets the tone of the entire track. Though The Nation­al does tend to use a cer­tain sort of instru­men­tal back­ing, the band is good enough at that and its end­less sub­tle vari­a­tions that it nev­er becomes stale. Com­bined with exper­i­men­ta­tion such as “Ter­ri­ble Love“ ‘s lo-fi approach, this keeps the album inter­est­ing (and quite a bit more) throughout.

As with The Nation­al’s ear­li­er work, front­man Matt Berninger’s bari­tone runs deep through High Vio­let, both intro­duc­ing the sto­ries that form the core of High Nation­al and tying togeth­er the music itself. Berninger’s into­na­tion of each line rings through the sound, lend­ing an impres­sive depth to the music while at the same time imbu­ing it with the emo­tion. Through­out the album he moves along a range of tones, from the bit­ter non­cha­lance of “Lemon­world” to the deter­mi­na­tion of “Run­away,” giv­ing the already excel­lent lyrics the emo­tion­al back­ing they need to work perfectly.

With High Vio­let, The Nation­al has suc­ceed­ed at telling tru­ly inter­est­ing sto­ries, each of which takes real­i­ty and con­sid­ers it with imagery which, when com­bined with Berninger’s voice, results in a pro­found nar­ra­tive through­out the album. At their core, The Nation­al’s sto­ries of real life are mun­dane - and much more relat­able for it. It’s the word­ing that makes the dif­fer­ence. As Berninger sings “I gave my heart to the Army / The only sen­ti­men­tal thing I could think of… / But it’ll take a bet­ter war to kill a col­lege man like me,” it’s hard not to imag­ine the char­ac­ter he’s singing about, just as “Sor­row“ ‘s “I live in a city sor­row built / It’s in my hon­ey / It’s in my milk” cre­ates such a clear image of sad­ness. Near­ly every word of High Vio­let car­ries such an immense emo­tion­al weight, and it cer­tain­ly shows.

High Vio­let is, quite sim­ply, an excel­lent album. The Nation­al has com­bined expert­ly formed instru­men­tals, Berninger’s vocals at their best, and its usu­al lyri­cal depth to cre­ate what is cer­tain­ly one of their best albums (a close match with Box­er). Even with­out the com­par­i­son to The Nation­al’s oth­er work, High Vio­let is a tri­umph, and quite pos­si­bly one of the best albums this year.

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