Album reviews

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A review of the album 'High Violet' by The National

The National High Violet

Review Snapshot: High Violet is the fifth album from the National and the group's most eagerly anticipated record yet. This time around the Brooklyn based band have the added burdens of worldwide exposure and greater critical scrutiny to deal with, though it appears that such pressures have either been openly embraced or actively ignored, such is the confidence with which this record is approached and realised. The result, a poignant exploration of 21st century anxieties, carefully crafted and delivered with an admirable sincerity.

The Cluas Verdict? 9 out of 10

Full Article: Few bands it seems take the long road to success anymore. What with the information super highway and the like, an outrageous hairstyle, an investment in treadmills, or even a spirited Paul Weller impression (yes, that’s a swipe at The Enemy), might just get you where you want to be. The National however, adopt a more old-fashioned approach to making music. Their incremental ascension to indie-rock stardom has been the product of hard work, strong albums and touring the arses off themselves. After Boxer (2007), the group have made their way to the precarious summit of alternative music. Those who may have feared how Berninger and co. would handle such dizzying heights need not have bothered.

High Violet is the most assured album from these guys yet. It is dark and brooding from the offset, with ‘Terrible Love’ exhibiting Matt Berninger’s sombre baritone over the inimitable guitar duelling of the Dessner twins. ‘Sorrow’ follows, beginning with the line “sorrow found me when I was young. Sorrow waited, sorrow won”. And on in such a dark vain the album continues. It might be gloomy, but it is never dull. There is a refreshing honesty about the songs which makes them entirely absorbing. The National’s albums always have a deeply personal feel to them, probably since the anxieties Berninger communicates aren’t exclusive to the front man of a rock band. He sings about tenuous relationships, financial woes and feelings of alienation and paranoia.
 
The tracks on this record are meticulously constructed. You can just tell that the lanky lead singer has wrestled with every word he sings, every lyric written and rewritten until deemed suitable. Similarly the music is complex and bittersweet. The instrumental arrangements are the most delicate and evocative from the band to date. ‘England’ in particular showcases their musical strides, building slowly to a stirring refrain. ‘Afraid of Everyone’ and ‘Conversation 16’ are further musical triumphs, with Matt lending his signature self deprecation to the latter, muttering “I was afraid, I’d eat your brains…..because I’m evil”. Lyrics like this are not unfamiliar to fans of the band, but whereas on Alligator that line might have been a guttural roar, on High Violet there is an uneasy restraint to both the vocals and the music.
 
There has been no effort to radically venture a different course on this album. The band tackles introspective matters in the same way they have always done, channelling feelings of disillusionment and fear, with their distinctive voice. Instead the emphasis has been on refining the sound that has taken a decade to form. And they do it with flying colours on High Violet. It is perfectly paced, getting the balance just right between slow paced growers (Runaway, Lemonworld) and instant toe tappers (Anyone’s Ghost, Bloodbuzz Ohio). They have managed to once more improve on their previous album, which is an incredible feat considering how good Boxer was. Unrelenting in their quest to push the boundaries of their talent, it remains to be seen just how far the National could yet go.
 
Kevin Boyle

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