The National
High Violet


4.5
superb

Review

by SowingSeason STAFF
August 6th, 2011 | 59 replies | 5,085 views


Release Date: 2010 | Tracklist

Review Summary: One of the greatest bands of our time unceremoniously drops their strongest record to date, almost as if it wasn’t a huge deal.

High Violet could be the most unassuming work to be released by any artist in the past decade. It is sluggish, tepid, and monotonous – and to a first time listener, it may even appear that lead singer Matt Berninger is bored. His baritone vocals hardly budge, concealing emotion deep within a vault that only opens in infrequent bursts such as the energy-packed ‘Mr. November’ from The National’s third LP Alligator or the bitter, introspective ‘All Dolled-Up In Straps’ from their Cherry Tree EP. The music has always been low-key, but High Violet sees the band even more subdued, crafting eleven consecutive hushed, low-key ballads that breathe just enough to keep the album alive. All of these combined qualities would spell disaster for any other band, and that is just what makes The National such an anomaly in the modern indie scene. Not only do they possess these traits, but they turn them into strengths that are unmatched by any band in any genre, straight across the board. The National prevail by being The National; and for those of you who aren’t familiar with exactly what that means, there may be no better descriptor than the gorgeously melancholic album that carved one band’s niche in a generation forever.

High Violet sees The National continue to refine their critically acclaimed sound, taking characteristics from Alligator and Boxer and fusing it into one undeniably soulful experience. While these elements have been even further tempered, nearly to the point of detachment, one can still feel the traces of emotion struggling to break free. In some cases, that emotion is numbness – just listen to the way Berninger sings “I don’t wanna get over you” in ‘Sorrow’, taking a line that has been stated to death by countless musicians and giving it new life by sounding, well…lifeless. After all, isn’t that how you feel when such a thought is dwelling in your mind? You aren’t gleefully belting out Broadway-style hooks, that’s for sure – and Berninger’s mournful laments reflect the feeling of heartbreak perfectly. ‘Conversation 16’ is another instance in which The National captivate their listeners in counterintuitive fashion. Since when does a line like “I was afraid I’d eat your brains, cause I’m evil” count as poetic? Amongst the airy guitars and Bryan Devendorf’s phenomenal drumming, even seemingly ridiculous lyrics like these have found a home – and to be honest, they are really moving when you take everything into account from Berninger’s desperation to the brilliant instrumental backdrop that accompanies it. From track to track The National manage to exude personality despite their relatively minimal output of energy, and that is something worthy of recognition in itself.

To avoid complete stagnancy, The National integrate a lot of subtleties that not only keep the songs mobile, but also set them apart from their surroundings. Take ‘Terrible Love’ for example, a song that opens the record noticeably more amped-up than the tracks that follow. It sounds fuzzy, almost as if you are turning a radio knob and are within a half of a millimeter of gaining full reception. While that may seem like a minute detail, it sets an early tone for what the record will be: rugged, forlorn, tired…all of these are traits that we may associate with High Violet without knowing exactly how we came to those conclusions. More ideas bubble under the surface of every single track, giving each one a unique flavor that helps it stand out in the foggy, mist-covered ocean that is High Violet. In ‘Anyone’s Ghost’, it is the barely audible humming that echoes in the background of the chorus that gives the song its haunting atmosphere. In ‘England’, the magisterial horns highlight the song’s key transitions like royalty’s triumphant return to the castle. In ‘Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks’ the luminous, multi-tracked vocal harmonies suggest that maybe The National aren’t a bunch of dejected buzz-kills after all. Every song has its subtle quality that makes it worthwhile, and each one is just difficult enough to put your finger on that it makes High Violet worthy of multiple listens.

The National prove on this album that they are the best at what they do: from the wave-like progression of momentum to the aforementioned finer points. High Violet is a triumph in every sense: guitars, drumming, vocals, lyrics, and the dynamics between each one of those aspects. Not only is this album easy to identify as one of the overarching achievements of the past decade, but it also solidifies The National as one of the best bands of our era. Boxer, Alligator, and now High Violet – they are all arguably classics of the modern era, and if their consistent top-of-the-line output offers a glimpse into the future, it is a safe bet that The National will continue to amaze us for years to come. They are almost perfect, and here’s to hoping that they won’t even think to make corrections.



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user ratings (1715)
Chart.
4.2
excellent
other reviews of this album
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Comments:Add a Comment 
Blackbelt54
August 6th 2011



4268 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

nice review, even though I don't think this is their best album

Parallels
August 6th 2011



6640 Comments

Album Rating: 1.0

more national love, eh?

SowingSeason
Staff Reviewer
August 6th 2011



15341 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Thanks blackbelt

All their albums are so good, that in my opinion it just comes down to preference and personal attachment

Also in case anyone notices, yes I borrowed like 3-4 sentences from my users best of 2010 summary just because i wanted to include them

Digging: Astronauts - Hollow Ponds

Maniac!
August 6th 2011



26246 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

their best

Parallels
August 6th 2011



6640 Comments

Album Rating: 1.0

its your right sowing, you wrote the sentences. lol

good review too,pos'dforreal

HBFS
August 6th 2011



1218 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

why not a 5? think they can/will do better?

Digging: Jamie xx - Girl/Sleep Sound

Parallels
August 6th 2011



6640 Comments

Album Rating: 1.0

i know they can definitely do better than this

HBFS
August 6th 2011



1218 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

that was @sowing, but i think this is basically perfect, if they do better than this then wow

Blackbelt54
August 6th 2011



4268 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Boxer is my favorite, but probably because it's the first one I heard and it took a really long time to grow on me

Parallels
August 6th 2011



6640 Comments

Album Rating: 1.0

@The National

Change is a double edged sword. Will you be the one wielding that sword, or will you fall upon it?

Xenophanes
Emeritus
August 6th 2011



10585 Comments


Stupendous review, man. I loved this record myself.



"Bloodbuzz, Ohio" almost makes me proud to live in Ohio.

Digging: United Nations - The Next Four Years

SowingSeason
Staff Reviewer
August 6th 2011



15341 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

This is amazing, and I think all of their records are right around a 4.5. I think they have a 5 in them for sure, maybe several 5's.

It is also extremely possible that I may end up 5-ing some/all of their three best albums (Alligator, Boxer, High Violet) at some point in time

mynameischan
Staff Reviewer
August 6th 2011



17920 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

misuse of semicolon in summary

Maniac!
August 6th 2011



26246 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This is my favorite sowing review

SowingSeason
Staff Reviewer
August 6th 2011



15341 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Chan: You are right, that should probably be a comma or ellipses. Will fix.

Maniac!: Wow, I'm glad you think so. Thanks a bunch.

Irving
Staff Reviewer
August 6th 2011



7144 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Such a Sowing review. Pos =)

SowingSeason
Staff Reviewer
August 6th 2011



15341 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Thanks Irving, I think haha

Long time no see

CrisStyles
August 6th 2011



766 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Probably in my top 5 favorite albums of all-time, although Boxer is still better than this. Great review, pos.

Irving
Staff Reviewer
August 6th 2011



7144 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

It was a great review - no two ways about it. Your way of extrapolating certain components of an album into paragraphs and paragraphs of yarn is something I really admire and could never do.

And yeah I've been off the radar. I'll be back though. Hope you haven't found a new Sput bromance partner yet ;)

wabbit
August 6th 2011



6978 Comments


4th best so like 4/5



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