Review Summary: Fully awake in their indie empire
One of the many great things about music is the many opinions of many different people. This goes beyond the simple "I'll take metal over rap anyday!" debates and into the nerd area of "Album of the year" and "best album of a particular genre!" (side note: a girl once stopped talking to me after I abbreviated album of the year AOTY because she said it was a clear indication I was a virgin, not fair at all). Album of the year has always been one of the most things to figure out for me towards the end of the year but this year it seems like we had a winner by default and almost a even more interesting winner. My winner for 2010 album of the year is The National's "High Violet". These are some of the reasons this is an incredible award for this album:
A. In my opinion it is the worst National album since "Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers"
B. The album does not really have any aggressiveness or urgency to it. Unlike almost all of "Alligator" and some of "Boxer"
C. I did not think it was going to be a top ten album of the year when it came out
Considering all of this how does "High Violet" win album of the year for me? Well lets face facts: saying "High Violet" is the worst National album since "Sad Songs" is like saying Kendra Wilkinson was the least attractive of "The Girls Next Door", the National replaced the potent aggressiveness of "Alligator" with some almost generation defining maturity, and all of the "big" albums of the year have been ten doses of straight buzz kill to me. But the thing that pushes this May release really over the top is that every song is at least good and every song does something different to make it good.
First it is important to understand the strengths that have made The National one of the best indie bands of the 21st century. The musicianship has always been incredible (The National are one of the few bands that the first thing you notice is that the drumming is really good, I mean this is about as rare as finding a PETA member that owns a Mike Vick jersey), Matt's voice gives him the ability to put his lyrics in context and match the music perfectly, and also the music is overall pretty daggum good (am I the first person to use daggum in a review?). But honestly when a band puts out two near classics in a row like The National did with "Alligator" and "Boxer" we begin to expect more. We begin to expect the band to present some new strengths and expand on the ones that they had previously presented (perfect examples: "The White Album" adding twenty eight songs of diverse Beatles goodness not even Yoko Ono could screw up and "Kid A" giving me the biggest "WTF" moment since I found out Drew Carry was hosting a network television show). This is what happened on "High Violet" a band redefining their strengths and adding new ones with each and every song.
The bands "usual" good qualities are redefined on "High Violet" and are even more obvious to the listener. "Bloodbuzz Ohio" not only features the bands usually sensational drumming but features this drumming leading perfectly into what has to be one of the best choruses of the whole year. Matt's voice (which I'm pretty sure 10% of children are conceived to in New York City) is pushed and extended to new heights on this album in songs like the closer "Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks" and "Conversation 16". In "Vanderlyle" he makes sure he takes his voice to its highest possible level to match the instrumental work of the song perfectly and in "Conversation 16" he screams "I'm evil" to some instrumental work that is both rapid and fading out at the same time (Side note: How is "Conversation 16" not in any of the 500000 vampire movies released this year? The song is not only good and a tad bit depressing but best lyrics are "I was afraid I'd eat your brains/ because I'm evil". Even Jacob would bang to that). The bands maturity is seen in them not having the screaming freakouts of "Abel" and "Mr. November" but replacing them with lyrics sang softly about being middle aged and growing up. It is an adjustment for people who love "Alligator" (like me, I mean I really wanted to buy an Alligator just so I could finally give this album its proper respect) but in the end it does not turn out to be a negative for the album and that makes "High Violet" a winner.
Not only are the previous strengths redefined but new strengths are presented in almost every song. "Terrible Love" is again the perfect atmospheric opener to the album (much like "Secret Meeting and "Fake Empire") but adds a powerful breakdown and some new subject manner that those songs simply did not have. "Sorrow" has a different mood and tone than any other National song I have heard as it seems like it strives to simply define what the word "sorrow" means to Matt but the song is still damn catchy and is in the top ten of the "songs I can't stop listening to when I have a bad day" list. "Anyone's Ghost" sees one of our first under three minute National songs that is driven completely by a catchy chorus. "Little Faith" again explores a different subject manner and shows that the band can be successful songwriters without relying on clichés and repetition. "Afraid of Everyone" perfect defines the culture of 2010 and is a candidate for "song of the year". The song describes how the news media installs so much fear in the average person that it becomes hard for this person to function normally. The lyrics to this song are borderline genius and again shows that Matt can basically write on any subject perfectly. The breakdown to the song is also great and has you feeling uplifted but at the same time scared to death. When a song makes you feel this many emotions it is usually doing a few things right. "Bloodbuzz Ohio" is another song of the year candidate and shows off the bands impeccable drumming but also a renewed focus on exploring new subject manners. "Lemonworld" is one of the first National songs I remember that covers the subject of marriage and it does so with brilliant lyrics and a laid back vibe and "Runaway" is one of the bands first songs that could be described as an anthem. "Conversation 16" shows off the diversity in lyrics and vocals and is one of the few National songs that seems to change paces rather quickly. "England" is one of the first songs from the band that uses multiple instruments and not only are a lot of instruments used but they are used incredibly well. The piano in "England" really stands out as one of the major highlights of the album. "Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks" stands out as the perfect closer of the album and this is because the vocals perfectly match the instrument work. So every song on this album has a different strength and a strength that is
different from something that band has previously done.
"High Violet" is The National worst album since "Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers" and basically backed into being my album of the year. But it is still album of the year because it redefined strengths of "Alligator" and "Boxer" and every song on the album has a unique strength. In another unrelated note the band is just incredible.