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):
Blurb: This album will only get better when the expanded addition comes out on Friday.