Review Summary: I've talked this album up so much and now I have explained why it is such an incredible album.
I would like to begin by saying that as a huge National fan for quite some time now, I had extremely high hopes for this album. When I first heard it, I was disappointed. With every listen, however, I love it even more. I've listened to it so much that it has far exceeded my expectations.
At this point, I'm fairly certain there is nothing I can say about his album that has not already been said many times. That alone should be an indication that if you have given this album a listen, you should probably do so now. I'll wait....
The National has been releasing albums for almost 10 years now, each album with its own distinct sound. From their first 2001 self titled alternative country folk rock album to this 2010 alternative indie post punk revival opus that can only be described as a masterpiece, High Violet, The National has grown in many ways as quite evident by how refined their sound has become.
From the first track "Terrible Love" you know you're in for something different. With the reverb drenched closet recorded sounding guitars and the opening line "It's a terrible love that I'm walking with spiders," the song is already very unique. Thus it's the song's build up that makes it for me. Devendorf's drumming kicks in just as the guitars get progressively more intense building to an incredible crescendo.
The 2nd song "Sorrow" is a beautiful song about the cliched theme of break ups and "the one that got away." Yet, The National are able to make the song in something so much that stands out more than every other song of the same nature. If you are familiar with the National, I don't think I need to explain that singer Matt Berninger often writes very abstract odd lyrics. Most of the times the lyrics work, but there are a few cases where his lyrics just don't work for a song. Only a very few however. His approach to the subject is what makes the song so unique. His lyrics are beautiful and poignant while maintaining his signature abstraction. The chorus, "Don't leave my half a heart alone on the water. Cover me in rag and bone. Sympathy. 'Cause I don't want to get over you. I don't want to get over you." is such a strikingly heartbreaking one that it brings tears to my eyes. The use of a chorus on the song just puts it over the top, confirming its place as one of my all time favorites by the band.
When I saw the National in concert April 22, 2010, right after the third song from the album, "Anyone's Ghost" they described it as "the only pop song they'll ever write." And this track is certainly the most clear cut and simplistic of the album. That said, if this is a pop song, then it is arguably one of the best ever written.
If I had to pick a least favorite track from the album, which is hard because i love every song from it, I would have to pick track 4 "Little Faith." The song merely does not appeal to me as the others do. It certainly uses very interesting religious symbolism to express, as far as I can tell, losing faith. I have not examined this track enough to say exactly what.
"Afraid of Everyone" is very different than anything I've ever heard from the National. It has a very dark experimental feel to it. I believe this was to reflect the subject matter of the song itself, which Berninger wrote about becoming a father. When anyone becomes a father, they have that fear. Berninger is able to bring it out in a way that anyone who is not a father can understand how it feels to become one for the first time from this song.
Quite possibly my favorite song of the entire year is "Bloodbuzz Ohio," a beautiful take on how it feels to feel like you no longer belong where you once did. The song is so perfectly constructed every single instrument, lyric is perfectly on cue. There is much I could about this track, but I feel everything else I have to say you should listen to the song to figure out in your own way. I feel a lot of it is to be interpreted in one's own way.
"Lemonworld" is a rather interesting song written about Berninger's wife and sister in law. The song has an intersting feel due to the heavy use of toms and little snare.
"Runaway" was a track I was a fan of a year before the album was released because I had heard them before it on and episode of Q TV. Another track about Berninger's new found fatherhood, yet it's almost a flipside "Afraid of Everyone" in that this is one of the slower numbers on the album.
"Conversation 16" is a song that many can relate to. It describes the difficulties of maintaining a relationship and keeping it alive and sticking with it through the bad.
"England" is a song that has one of the best buildups on the album. The song, as far as I can tell, is about losing feeling due to distance.
"Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks," the album's closing song, beautifully takes you through what it's like to be single after one has been in a relationship for quite some time and how sad it feels. The string accompaniment, however, is what really allows you to understand exactly what Berninger is talking about.
High Violet is an extraordinary album and quite possibly the National's definitive masterpiece. It's an album that I feel will stand the test of time.