Album review: The National - High Violet


10. Mai. 2010, 11:28

Originally posted on

Artist: The National
Title: High Violet
Release Date: May 11
Label: 4AD

Tucked eight songs deep into The National’s fifth LP, High Violet, is a slow burner that bottles up everything about this band into five-and-a-half minutes of bliss. A slow, melodic lullaby of piano and acoustic guitar waltz with Matt Berninger’s moody baritone and subtle drum beats. “We don’t bleed when we don’t fight/Go ahead, go ahead, lose our shirts in the fire tonight,” Berninger croons while the music swells behind him.

It’s a song you’d expect to build and build before exploding into something heavier towards the end, but it never happens. Berninger’s vocals grow more eager and yearning as the song rolls along, but this song is a slow jam in true National fashion. We’re left with something that’s beautiful in its simplicity.

The National have become masters of this game – making lush rock songs that don’t ever really rock. High Violet feels like a natural follow-up to 2007’s Boxer – we have the same brooding melodies littered with raw emotion. Take “Afraid of Everyone,” which features backup vocals by Sufjan Stevens. A slow guitar riff opens into Berninger’s paranoia: “With my kid on my shoulders I try/Not to hurt anybody I love/But I don’t have the drugs to sort it out.” It’s not until the 1:15 mark that we get percussion and more guitar, making “Afraid of Everyone” one of many slow-builders scattered throughout High Violet.

The band – made up of Berninger, Bryce and Aaron Dessner (twins) and Bryan and Scott Devendorf (brothers) – do branch out from what has become that very formulaic sound of theirs. On album opener “Terrible Love,” we’re given distorted, glitchy guitar riffs that fit the song’s eerie, maybe-I’m-better-off-without-drugs tone. “But I won’t follow you into the rabbit hole,” Berninger solemnly chants while a persistent, thumping beat swirls up, making this a perfect driving song.

It’s tough to pick out a weak spot on this record – most songs flow seamlessly into each other and High Violet really does feel like a meticulous, planned-out work of art. A couple of songs – “Anyone’s Ghost” comes to mind right away – are weaker than the ones surrounding them. That’s not to say they’re bad songs. They’re not. But when you’ve got gems like “Runaway” and the gorgeous, fall-in-love-with-me “Conversation 16,” there are going to be natural low points on the record.

The album closes with “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks,” a song the band have been kicking around a live shows for a while now. It’s a slow ballad with simple piano chord progression, strings and, perhaps, Berninger’s most emotional-sounding vocals on the album. “All the very best of us/string ourselves up for love.” The song sounds like a band that has mastered its signature sound, a band that has grown comfortable with that sound.

And as the song closes out with lyrics like “Oh, the waters are rising/There’s still no surprising you,” we can’t help but feel like this is The National’s message to us: this is our sound, we’re sticking with it. And we’re here to stay.

Rating: 8.9/10

The National
High Violet
Terrible Love
Anyone's Ghost
Little Faith
Afraid of Everyone
Bloodbuzz Ohio
Conversation 16
Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks


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