There is an ongoing argument amongst all National fans, but I hardly think anyone really minds: When a band consistently releases 3 genre-defining masterpieces in a row, a little bickering probably isn't too bothersome. Most of the die hard contingent screams that 2007's Boxer is the best of their big 3. It's a slow-burning collection of intensely quiet orchestral indie songs that are undoubtedly beautiful, and astonish at the subtle inclusion of so many instruments at a time without veering anywhere near overbearing or pretentious. Even when the band do expand their sound, as in album opener Fake Empire, it is still a tight and controlled release of extroverted energy. That's not to say the band is drained of energy; it simply exists in their music as a soft undercurrent, a light nervous kick(the obvious exception being drummer Brian Devendorf, who kicks and flails and pounds with subhuman precision). I, however, am with the people that prefer Alligator over Boxer. Whereas Boxer reigns in Alligator's youthful exuberance, I prefer the anthems on that album to the growers on Boxer. It's all a matter of perspective; I'm still young and pissed off. The reason I've started my review with this lengthy sidenote is to give my next statement the context to contain the proper power it deserves: High Violet blows the previous two albums out of the water.
The National have always stood out as a decidedly unique commodity in indie music. From Matt Berningers deceptive baritone and powerfully visual and stunningly human lyrics, the frontman easily stands out. As previously stated, Brian Devendorf has an almost scary ability to effortlessly create frantic rhythms and integrate them into the downtrodden musical backdrop. In a genre that trumps transcendence over real human emotion, and in the recent bastardization of indie that's become more prevalent, just catchy, Berninger and Co. are always relateable and deeply memorable without ever being flashy.
High Violet continues The National's formula of slightly tweaking their sound just enough to make sense, a term music reviewers love to use: a logical progression. This would lead most to think that The National may be running out of steam; Berninger sure isn't screaming like he used to. But one listen to these 11 tracks that are the definition of the term 'flawless', and any notions of rigidity are instantly dispelled. A dramatic shift in sound wouldn't have made sense in relationship to the deep connection each National album shares with its musical ideas and its lyrical themes, and The National just don't do dramatic gestures anyway. Though there is a slight nervousness coursing through all 11 tracks, the band always sounds assured and upright. The National have always crept along to the beat of their own drum, and what a glorious sound it is that rings out.
In spite of any hyperbole, make no mistake; High Violet is all of these things: It is mature and emotional and indeed flawless. The National are unmistakeably comfortable in their skin, and it IS a logical progression, a sound that could only come from a band progressing and perfecting their musical ambition without ever sounding ambitious. It is the sound of a band with a subhuman ability to make technically flawless music indebted with deep, rich human emotion. One listen to album standout "Afraid Of Everyone", and it is readily apparent that this is the most versatile and memorable album yet released by The National. Beginning with a ghostly choir of "oooh's", Matt Berninger is as anxious as ever, baring his soul in devastating fashion. Radio is evil, television is evil, he's evil, as he later states in the breathtaking "Runaway", and he's afraid of everyone, and afraid for his son. The music swells orchestrally with Brian Devendorf beating out a muscular rhythm, until Berninger does his vocal trick, though it doesn't sound like one at all; when he stutters "Your voice is swallowing my s-s-soul, my s-s-s-s-s-s-soul", he sounds downright defeated and miserable. In this album lies a heavy sadness, but it is never wallowing or overindulging, Berninger is just excising himself. The music is more intricate than ever, using on many occasions backing vocals and ethereal choirs, which enriches the ominous vibe the album has a vice grip on. Brian Devendorf is hyperactive, creative, and in possession of an unerring ability to make his drumming style work. The guitars also have a far more memorable set of riffs this time around, snaky and complex lines that will stay in your head. And Matt Berninger presides over it all, masterfully vacillating between his deep baritone and a slight croon, with an amount of vocal hooks that is astonishing.
On album closer "Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks", he deeply intones "Man, It's all been forgiven, the swans are a-swimming" before crooning "I'll explain everything to the geeks." High Violet is his entire uneasy arresting explanation, and even if it wasn't wrapped up in a perfect orchestral and moody indie backdrop, we would still be riveted.
Matt Berningers is not a baritone. He's definitely a bass vocalist. Aside from that little niche the review was good. The Wikipedia page says he's known for being baritone, it's a redundant statement as there is nothing exclusive about being a baritone in a rock band. It is of medium depth and is the most common male voice type.
Downer :/. Saying "deceptive baritone" sounds like you're saying he's really a baritone but he sings really high or really low (latter in this case). He does get pretty high in "Afraid of Everyone" and "Conversation 16," but that's just because he has a large range. Probably about 3 Octaves with his full voice, bass singers tend to have large ranges. (I believe it is because of the anatomy of the vocal chord, they have an easier time becoming shorter to hit high notes vs being physically incapable of stretching past a certain point to go lower)
Simple, they have no idea what they're talking about. People listen to a low voice and automatically think "monotone", "slow", "boring", or "That's what God sounds like". If you're singing "monotone" you're not really singing at all because that means you're stuck on 1 semitone (literally speaking), lol. Conversation 16 for example expands well over 2 Octaves (24 semitones). Complete opposite of monotone.
When people call his voice 'monotonous' they clearly don't mean 'monotonous' in a technical sense. 'Monotonous' is a synonym for 'unchanging' and 'lacking in dynamism' in the way that most people use it.
I know, I was exaggerating. That's why I said "literally speaking", but they're still wrong. If his voice were so static, he wouldn't be displaying such an impressive range consistently throughout a single record.
Great review. To be honest I feel like this review maybe could have been pared down a little - you seem to waffle a bit too much on the personal tangents and it becomes a bit too conversational at times. Aside from that, your pos is well-deserved (especially if this is only your third review!).
Well, I mean, the reason why Alligator is such a phenomenal record is because it walks the line between 'monotony' and 'tension' so perfectly from start to finish, jolting at all the right points and climaxing with 'Mr. November' - it's clear that the band are aware they have that down-tempo facet to their music.
Well, yeah, I think the actual term 'monotony' is obviously negative in both explicit and implicit meaning but I think my point is that the reason some people do get bored by this band is because they balance on the line between tedium and intensity so well. At that point it becomes personal preference because there are plenty of people who can't deal with music any less intense than a bombardment of heavy guitars every second of the day and there are plenty of people who listen to Stars Of The Lid.