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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