Saturday, May 8, 2010

The National - High Violet

Just when music lovers thought that the National had already achieved peak glory with 2007’s Boxer, a shadowy but obliquely intense collection of songs, the quintet of Cincinnati natives shatters all conventions. On their latest fare – to put it simply – they strive to define a generation, and in many cases, they succeed. High Violet rumbles from its own belly, the songs exploding from within themselves, the lyrics detailing the impossibilities of everyday life in a way that’s simultaneously puzzling and universal. Like the National’s other albums, High Violet is a grower. After a few listens, the way Matt Berninger’s deep baritone rises and falls ever so subtly over Aaron and Bryce Dessner’s melding, shimmering guitar lines creates a certain hypnosis. Punctured by Bryan Devendorf’s alternating time signatures and his brother Scott’s pounding bass, these songs kick to life. “Sorrow found me when I was young/Sorrow waited, sorrow won,” Berninger mumbles in a hushed tone on the album’s second track, “Sorrow.” It’s one of those moments that hint at the emotional journey High Violet shares with listeners. “England” is the kind of sprawling sonic landscape, swathed in strings and horns, that will inevitably draw comparisons to U2. The National doesn’t reach perfection here, but they get so close it’s scary. We’re stuck wondering – is this their Joshua Tree?

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