Tuesday, May 11, 2010 at 10:40 a.m.
As May starts to heat up here in the Valley, the new releases are following suit. Brooklyn rockers The National release their fifth album today, High Violet, to very lofty acclaim.
Anything the band lays down these days seems to turn to gold. The National has indie rock by the balls, and High Violet is the band's way of pouring it on -- a polished, incredibly deep album that nary misses a beat. It's been three long years since The National's last effort, Boxer, yet listening to High Violet seems like it's been only a few weeks. An album of the year contender from the moment the band premiered lead track, "Terrible Love," on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, High Violet has everyone in existence singing its praises, and rightfully so.
What the critics are saying:
Sputnik Music: "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."
"With an ever rising profile and plenty of indie-famous friends-- Sufjan Stevens and Bon Iver's Justin Vernon guest here-- the National were afforded the opportunity to obsess over High Violet. They could've holed up and recorded an idiosyncratic, expectation-defying mess. Instead they produced an ornate, fussed-over record that sounds like no one other than themselves. Given the amount of flack they take for being a no-frills bore, simply refining their sound was arguably the braver option. They miss, occasionally-- the string-drenched closer, "Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks", is too decadent for its own good-- but mostly, they construct gorgeous, structurally sound vignettes. There are few bands that could craft a song like "Sorrow"-- in which emotion acts as a character and the band turns Berninger's balladry into a well paced jog-- without stumbling over their own ambitions. The guitars on "Afraid of Everyone" actually sound nervous; "England" speaks of cathedrals over properly magisterial drums. These are triumphs of form."
"Berninger's lyrics, though tonally divisive, are incredibly engaging. He's no Steinbeck, no Kerouac, despite endorsements from the most feverishly faithful; but his stories, delivered with wrenching sincerity, form the first point of entry for newcomers awaiting enlightenment. High Violet is an album characterised largely by absence, and displacement - of being someplace other than ideal. This extends from simple geography - the overseas lover of England's vexed protagonist, the big-city claustrophobia of the luscious Little Faith - to the afterlife ruminations of Anyone's Ghost, a song that blindsides with its switch from aloof coolness to an affecting concession of continued allegiance after death parts its players."
"What truly elevates High Violet, however, is the National's skillful navigation away from Boxer's weighty production style. For all its raw brilliance, that album was at times difficult to digest, stuffed to the brim with bleeding soundscapes and muddy tunnel reverb. High Violet is an expertly handled balancing of the airy and the dense, and nowhere is that better exemplified than on the triumphant "England." Building the song gracefully with an ever-expanding intensity, the band clearly recognizes that less is more, limiting the track's lead players to a light scattering of piano, bubbling drums, and the naked mutterings of Berninger's enunciation-challenged grumble: "I don't even think to make corrections," he sings, perhaps aware of the effortlessly tragic sound the National has so perfectly achieved here."
High Violet is out now via 4AD