Monday, November 22, 2010

The National: High Violet

I missed the boat on the National until late 2007, when Paste made dubbed Boxer as the album of the year.  I gave the album a listen and was immediately repulsed by Matt Berringer's vocals.  I thought, "This is the album of the year?"  I kept listening, hoping that I would "get it."  Long story short: I got it.  Once I embraced Berringer's baritone, I was sold on the National's combination of good music and great lyrics.

At the initial listen of High Violet(only $6.99!), I was a little disappointed; I can't really explain it, but I felt like something was missing.  I think, however, that I expected to be immediately bowled over, but that's not how the National works.  For each of their albums (I got my mitts on Alligator in '08), there was a period of 4-5 listens where I had to feel things out.  Once I got through those initial listens, I was, indeed, bowled over.

While Violet's opening track gets off to a slow start with "Terrible Love," I was grabbed by the lyrics of follow-up track "Sorrow," which repeated "I don't want to get over you" at the end of its chorus.  I'm not sure how anyone that's ever been on the receiving end of a break-up couldn't make a sincere connection with that statement.  It's an undeniably simple set of lyrics, but the National wrap it in a perfect sonic package, and the rest of the song's lyrics are mysterious and broodish, thus fitting the post-break-up malaise.

The screaming on Alligator ("Mr. November" and "Secret Meeting") is absent from Violet -- there's not a track where the band lets loose (like they do in concert) -- but what Violet lacks in Red-Bull-fueled vocals, they more than make up for in brilliant lyrics.  "Bloodbuzz Ohio" has a poppy sensibility (and a goofy video), while "Lemonworld" deals out a bit of irony: "I gave my heart to the army, / The only sentimental thing I could think of."  Personal stand-out track "Conversation 16" features lyrics about eating brains because "I'm evil" -- but this isn't lazy/cheap zombie gimmickry; the National pull it off with references to Hollywood and black dreams stating, "We belong in a movie," and a darker line about sticking his head in the oven.

The slower-paced tracks "Runaway" and "Vanderlyle" make the album feel like it ends with a bit of a whimper, but sandwiched in between those songs is the aforementioned "Conversation 16" (unofficial video):

Grade: A-/A
Blurb: This album will only get better when the expanded addition comes out on Friday.


  1. Careful with your double negative, there, buddy. It's actually a triple negative and has the opposite of the intended meaning. :)

    Thanks for the review. I was about to move on to this album; and, now, I'm even more excited about it.

  2. I forgot about the "not" at the sentence's beginning! Good catch. [fixed]