The National
High Violet


5.0
classic

Review

by Ben Thornburgh CONTRIBUTOR (116 Reviews)
July 19th, 2013 | 110 replies


Release Date: 2010 | Tracklist

Review Summary: My Half of Heart: High Violet and Depression

Like many writer types, I’ve been stricken with depression all of my life.

Visions of my youth means visions of confusion and sadness, inseparable from each other. Somewhere, in the way back of my mind, exists a memory of a very young me piling his mattress against his bedroom door to bar his parent’s entry, holding his head in emotional turmoil and having no idea why he’s so sad all the time. I’ve bounced in and out of enough doctors’ offices and swallowed enough capsules to realize something about my affliction, I’m afraid to lose depression.

When I find myself submerged, I sweep my vision over its luxuriously dark colors, and look into its milky face to find one that looks like mine staring back at me. Because unlike the emotions it typically shares space with, anger and sadness, depression wants to be loved. The hotter, more violent emotions find comfort in their rage and self-absorption. A peace of mind is achieved in their total separation. Depression looks up like a lost child, he reaches his hands up to you and flexes his fingers, it begs and pleads to be held and comforted. He weeps because he is alone. I have shared a bedroom with his dim visage, I have found solace in his sympathetic company and we have cried together.

“It’s quiet company.”

The National were formed in 1999 by a group of four guys with a lofty goal, to be in a band and maintain functional adult lives at the same time. One imagines the group seated at a table in a bar. One member suggests they form a band, everyone nods, the next suggests “The National”, everyone nods, drinks are raised, everyone’s home before 11. After their first two albums underperformed in the states (Big in France though!) they hit upon some particularly deep vein of inspiration with their third release, Alligator. The set of concepts and ideas present in Alligator would extend to their next three albums, Boxer, High Violet, and Trouble Will Find Me. Each is excellent, so closely intertwined they demand a lavish boxset containing all four.

Matt Berninger has spent many hours with depression. He has questioned the usefulness of his Graphic Design degree with him, sat and zoned when the crushing debt of financing his own music descended, he slept next to him in the hotels of distant countries as he embarked on long tours, and he whispered terrible things in his ear when, in the afterglow of the birth of his daughter, he felt an awful and crushing pressure on his shoulders. Depression was borne again in his throat, wholly and totally. His magnificent baritone conveys not just depression’s sadness but also its singular and elegant beauty. “And I/Can't fall asleep/Without a li-” he pauses, “-ttle help/It takes a while/to settle down/my ship of hopes/wait til the past/leaks out.” Opener “Terrible Love” spins about its sheets in the throes of mania, ideas and concepts blasting through its head uncontrollably. “It’s a terrible love and I’m walking with spiders”, the drums beat onward, “It’s a terrible love I’m walking in.”

The band rushes time and space past his ears as he sings. Aaron and Bryce Dresser, brothers by birth, pour sibling rivalry though cracked and fuzz drenched riffs. Scott and Bryan Devendorf prove that a perfectly synced up drum and bass combo make great bands otherworldly. They summon an epic tidal wave of force that would shame the best Arcade Fire songs, all on the opening track. In their sadness, The National are a family, they stand strong together and beat back the darkness with some of the most graceful and gorgeous music I have ever heard.

The intertwining of sadness and beauty is nothing new but the way The National approach the darkness of adult life with such refinement certainly feels new. In case the previous paragraphs didn’t make it clear, The National make some downcast music, but to simply label it “sad” doesn’t touch upon the world of emotions they find in those three letters.

”Sorrow found me when I was young.”

So begins the second song on High Violet and the best single song The National have made to date, “Sorrow”. In it, they personify depression. They make him whole and human. They lay a tender, fatherly hand on his shoulder and walk with him, listening to his story. Anyone who has felt the menacing push of psychiatrists couch will find a great deal of relation with this song. While the verses are open to much interpretation, sorrow flitting between a body on the waves and a girl inside a cage, a very simple and very desperate statement anchors the chorus.

“Don’t leave my half of heart alone […] Cause I don’t want to get over you.”

The National are sad but not sacks. Scott and Bryan Devendorf make sure of that. Bryan is simply one of the most low key creative drummers in indie rock history. He’s never flashy, never contributing more than the song can handle. His patterns on “Anyone’s Ghost” and “Little Faith” are executed with stunning precision. He’s as in the pocket as Clyde Stubblefield. The little touches are dazzling too; the way he rolls on the rim during the 2nd verse of “Little Faith” is a subtle hook. Bryan’s basslines are strong and forceful and, during “Little Faith”, kind of funky. They’re muscular and big, always making sure the songs don’t wallow in pity.

Berninger paints fragments of confrontations, tense moments, and the descending feeling of grief for no reason. No attempt at any particular insight, just loads of interpretation. “Bloodbuzz Ohio”s “I still owe money, to the money, to the money I owe” is the albums most quoted line and the most quietly devastating. It sounds like standing in front of a kitchen table loaded with bills. He doesn’t always succeed - I still can’t quite figure out how to relate to “You and your sister live in a lemonworld… doot doot doot doot doo” – but more often than not he nails it. And on “Conversation 16”, he absolutely crushes it.

”I think the kids are in trouble/do not know what all the troubles are for”

Berninger's tense moments feel more vividly realized on “Conversation 16” than anything he’s done to date. “Live on coffee and flowers/Try not to wonder what the weather will be/I figured out what we’re missing/I tell you miserable things after you are asleep.” Perhaps most painful of all is the second verses somber admission, “It’s a Hollywood summer/You’ll never believe the ***ty thoughts I think.”

All of this just builds to a swooning, staggering chorus. “Now we’ll leave the silver city cause all the silver girls/Gave us black dreams,” evocative for sure but the jaw dropping stuff is happening behind him, as the ghostly choir that haunts the whole of the album swoops from the sky only to arc off into the air again before hitting the ground.

On grand finale, “England”, the clouds finally break. It’s not happiness, but it is clarity. The music is triumphant but we’re still fuming with jealousy over her Facebook profile, “You must be somewhere in London,” seethes Berninger, “You must be loving your life in the rain” while the music behind him swells into something that could soundtrack the grand finale of a movie. “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” is the epilogue. It sounds crushed, but also, determined. It beats forward into the night. It is a resolved ending, we live to see another day.

Without depression Elliot Smith and Kurt Cobain would spring back to life, their music erased. Didn’t Kurt “miss the comfort in being sad” after he starting numbing the depression out of him? What is creativity without depression?

The National do not have the answers to these questions, they don’t even try to answer them. They simply know depression is part of being human. The National are sad but never pitiful, angry but never bitter, mournful but never defeated. High Violet taps into something very essential about depression, its humanity. Depression is inspired and graceful. It’s at times magnificent. It questions itself. It ponders its own existence. It seeks to create, sometimes succeeding wildly, sometimes failing. Its intentions are good. It takes and it gives. It creates and destroys. It lives and dies. It loves and hates.

“It’s quiet company.”



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Comments:Add a Comment 
HolidayKirk
Contributing Reviewer
July 19th 2013


1626 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Ah, fuck guys.

I'm really nervous. This album has a ton of super positive reviews already and I don't wanna be redundant but I've been working on this review for so long I cant tell if its good or super self indulgent anymore.

Suggest edits below, thanks for reading.



YourDarkAffected
Contributing Reviewer
July 19th 2013


1665 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

yea, this review reads a little pretentious (though I'm sure you didn't mean it that way) and probably too personal, but the writing itself is solid. Lines like this go a little over the top imo though:

"When I find myself inside its caverns, I run my hands along its smooth contours, sweep my vision over its luxuriously dark colors, and look into its milky face to find one that looks like mine staring back at me."

Still, I haven't read your other reviews, and maybe it's just your style and not mine, but I guess I wouldn't have written so personally unless it was extremely relevant to the music rather than the lead member, but that's just me. I'm sure some staff could give you better feedback than that, but in all seriousness it was a good review. Keep at it.

SowingSeason
Staff Reviewer
July 19th 2013


15979 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Fuck, this review is good.

Digging: Maybeshewill - Fair Youth

YourDarkAffected
Contributing Reviewer
July 19th 2013


1665 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

well, there ya go haha. I would go with Sowing on that, not me.

HolidayKirk
Contributing Reviewer
July 19th 2013


1626 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

unless it was extremely relevant to the music rather than the lead member

^^

I found it to be relevant to the album as a whole.

I toned down some of the language as well, thanks for your suggestions.

Ire
July 19th 2013


41779 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

the national is the best band ever

Funeralopolis
July 19th 2013


11340 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

correct rating

Digging: No Joy - Wait to Pleasure

climactic
July 19th 2013


18907 Comments


nice review, love this album

ZilbelPing
July 19th 2013


6160 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Awesome review, man. Pos'd

I absolutely agree with what you said about Bryan Devendorf. He is one of the very few drummers that can be called "absolutely controlled". Watching him play shows that he's obviously skilled, but hearing what he recorded displays his maturity as a musician. His drumming is never lackluster, yet never too much. It's just perfect in relation to The National's music.

YoYoMancuso
July 19th 2013


11080 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

holy shit pos

wacknizzle
July 19th 2013


13215 Comments


I must say this review is fucking brilliant. Good timing too, finally got into these guys.

Digging: Dioramic - Supra

larrytheslug
July 19th 2013


1315 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

good read. how do other national lps compare in your opinion? you seem to have a great connection to this one.

HolidayKirk
Contributing Reviewer
July 19th 2013


1626 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Like I said, the surrounding albums (Alligator, Boxer, Trouble Will Find Me) are all required. It really is like a set.

TooLateToGoBack
July 19th 2013


1764 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

pos'd

Digging: Pianos Become the Teeth - Keep You

Veldin
July 19th 2013


1193 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Dude, I've enjoyed every review I've read by you. You're too damn good, hahah.

Digging: Kayo Dot - Coffins On Io

Artuma
July 19th 2013


12958 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

sweet review + nice rating

pos'd hard

Digging: Suffocate For Fuck Sake - Blazing Fires and Helicopters on the Fro

jtswope
July 19th 2013


2139 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Fuck yes! This album is awesome.

jtswope
July 19th 2013


2139 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

pos'd obviously

brandontaylor
July 19th 2013


79 Comments


i think i really need to make more of an effort to listen to and enjoy this band. great review btw, pos'd.

CharlieG
July 20th 2013


10 Comments


Excellent review



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