Review Summary: I owe money, to the money, to the money I owe.
It seems that the Brooklyn boys have mastered the art of consistent and resilient album creation doesn’t it? You could follow their story back to 2005’s Alligator
, the album that really made
things start to happen for The National. Initially, critics and those first attentive passed it off as mediocre, ambiguous, and just head-scratching weird
. But, however, there was a resilience and hidden treasure to be found within the album’s foundation that only grew in quality with the passing time. Songs like “Karen”, “Friend of Mine”, and “City Middle,” first thought of as painfully one-dimensional and simple, told a story of a man missing the best of his life, even when many promising years were still to follow. The release of 2007’s Boxer
actually buttressed Alligator
and made it all the more stronger in context. Fans then knew what to look for in The National’s work; everything, everything
from the band had to be given time to grow. Having then knowing this, the fans and the critics were ready for Boxer
, embracing the juggernaut album with open arms and giving it proper time to take root and bloom.
Are we in 2010 ready for High Violet
as those in 2007 were ready for Boxer
? Yes, in fact many of us may desperately need
it. Where Boxer
’s message followed the awe-filled bewildered tension of a man looking over his life and realizing that he had never envisioned himself doing the things that he is now doing when he was younger, High Violet
is the acceptance of the life that these two preceding albums lamented and pondered over: the pain, the day-to-day struggle, the love, and the continuing effort to just make it alive to the very next day. Many of us find ourselves in a similar situation in our own lives. What better way to cope with it than to have Matt Berninger and his rag-tag quartet of indie rock saviors relay our very same feelings, often disguised, back to us on record, ironically soothing and relieving the frustration and stress such lives often bring to our persons.
The characteristics that have made The National such an endearing, unique, though interestingly not-so unique, indie rock band in the past is Matt Berninger’s weathered, smoky baritone - the kind of voice that seems more fit for a man at least thirty to forty years his senior - and the onslaught of drummer Bryan Devendorf that together work hand-in-hand to spin the band’s main intentions and messages in their albums over the course of the tracks. “Terrible Love” sees High Violet
already finding its legs from the onset. ‘It takes an ocean not to break
,’ is recited over the band’s euphoric instrumental build up. Berninger rides the guitar rhythms of brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner, while Devendorf takes careful aim to explode in frantic fills no one would dare question the accuracy or potency of. From here, High Violet
coils and straightens itself smoothly through its course, finding a few rougher, repetitive junctions in “Anyone’s Ghost”, “Lemonworld”, and “Runaway”, but quickly settling into a groove that no other band but The National could comfortably exist and operate in.
The National are careful to stick with what works here on High Violet
. Berninger and Devendorf are the highlights once again - their interplay being best displayed on Boxer
-esque anthem “Bloodbuzz Ohio”. However, the band seem to push hard in making this album feel even more complete than their past releases, if not with the inclusion of another flawless home-run set of songs, per se, but in a clearer, more encompassing all-band utilization. The Dessner brothers are more prevalent on High Violet
. Their strums are more impacting and noticeable in the music, and even a healthy set of harmonious vocal melodies touch and flirt with Berninger on such tracks as “Anyone’s Ghost”, “ Afraid of Everyone”, “Conversation 16”, and “England”. It's little wonder that many will probably say that The National sound a little too comfortable with what they're currently doing in the conception of their music. In all honesty, though, their comfort is entirely warranted; every band member is vital to each song's success, and though the drums and the vocals are still in charge at the end of the day, everything here has to be in its right place for the album to work. This band is a machine: consistent, deadly, and precise.
brought out the strengths of Alligator
and contextualized it, so does High Violet
buffer and position Boxer
into a place where it can now be more easily absorbed and understood. If anything, this is the primary strength of the album: it makes everything that The National have done thus far sound even better. Many would agree that it’s rather difficult to fully take in this album and understand its intricacies without prior experience with The National. Afterall, it’s the next chapter in the band’s lovely ambiguous, but oh-so-personal story; you have to hear the story all the way through to grasp each part. High Violet
is quality material that we have come to expect from The National, and as many fans now know post-Alligator
, it will only get better with time.