Review Summary: The National release their third masterpiece in a row.
They exist in a genre that is notorious for being high-minded and devoid of any sort of immaturity, where music has lost all of its classic appeal and relativity in favor of abstract ideas and unfeeling electronics, so you've got to give The National the credit they deserve for making three perfect albums that fall into none of those pitfalls while perfectly detailing exactly what it's like to grow up - something that the rest of the indie community wants you to believe they never had to do. Could you imagine any other band coming up with lyrics like, "Hey love, we'll get away with it, we'll run like we're awesome, totally genius" and making it sound like it's the smartest thing ever? That's right, nobody else would because nobody else is The National. In fact, it's doubtful that any other indie band would even consider writing some of the lyrics that Matt Berninger comes up with. You could say that it takes courage for him to do such things if he didn't do them so deftly and nonchalantly. Say what you will about his somewhat monotone baritone or his sometimes indecipherable phrasings, but there is no armor for his words to hide behind, no cheap plating to inadequately cover up the fact that musicians feel the same things as everyone else. More than all of those things though, I never feel like The National are lying to me like other indie bands seem to, and that's why they're the best.
Alligator and Boxer were perfect examples of two different stages in life. Alligator was so young and so impulsive but there was doubt looming underneath, like the band knew there was more to everything but they were afraid to find out. There was the sense that the end of carelessness was constantly creeping up behind them and they were just barely able to keep fending it off. Boxer was the beginning of adulthood and responsibility, of recognizing what was left behind and trying not to be bitter because of it. There was nostalgia but it was somewhat jaded; it gave further weight to Alligator's allegations that they secretly hated that sort of careless lifestyle. High Violet moves completely beyond any sort of youthful folly; it's not so much a new era for The National as it is the next natural step that their music would take. The overall sound isn't too different - the music is still pure National - but as with all of their previous albums, there's a wholly different attitude that sets it apart from everything else they've done. Opening song "Terrible Love" is all reverb-tinged guitars with piano notes accentuating every measure; it's all very down-to-earth and chilled out until the chorus kicks in and brings more energy. And here is where I'll say it: Brian Devendorf is the best drummer in indie. Of course, it's not a genre typically known for fantastic drumming, but that's all the more reason to praise the drumming half of the Devendorf brothers. In a lot of ways, he is the last vestige of Alligator's energy, constantly breaking into rhythms that should not fit the music as well as they do. Listen to "Bloodbuzz Ohio," one of High Violet's best songs, in which Devendorf muscles his way into the otherwise tranquil, piano-driven bridge with his typical fervor.
There isn't a bad song on the album, and generally when people say things like that they seem to imply that there are still a few duds here and there. But High Violet is literally free of weak moments. Anyone familiar with how The National operate won't be surprised by that, but it's still an impressive feat because they're fairly deep into their career. While Boxer generally had none of Berninger's vocal tricks that he displayed on Alligator (the almost screamed "Abel," the raw energy of "Mr. November"), he brings some of that back on High Violet. The end of "Afraid Of Everyone" sees him stuttering as he sings "Your voice is swallowing my so-so-so-soul," and there are a few moments where his usually solitary vocals are assisted by backing vocals or even multi-tracked, like the majestic ending of "Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks." His performance on "Runaway" is heart-wrenching, similar to Boxer's "Racing Like A Pro." "Conversation 16" could be the album's best song, and it's certainly the one that displays everyone's talents best. The drumming is unsurprisingly the highlight, but the airy guitars, faint horns, and apparition-like backing choir create a fantastic atmosphere for Berninger's vocals, which are anything but monotone throughout the track.
It would be easy to say that every song on High Violet has a highlight - be it the piano of "England," Berninger's "do do do do's" in "Lemonworld," or the bass in "Little Faith" - but the songs themselves are the highlights in an album that separates itself from Boxer and Alligator while still embracing that those albums made it what it is. The National should give faith to anyone who has become disillusioned with indie music, anyone who misses a time where it didn't seem like all the musicians thought they were better than you and you could actually relate to the damn words they were singing. High Violet is another batch of cement to further supplement The National's already unshakable concrete career.