The National – High Violet

10/03/2012 21:24

The current indie scene sure is ungrateful. Every day I'm forced to hear about a new, undeservingly hyped band that is a mere sum of its influences, bands devoid of any kind of personality, favoring form over substance. Admittedly, it took The National, a five-piece rock band from Cincinnati, six years and three full lengths to truly come into their own with the release of their 2005 breakthrough, Alligator. While not necessarily reinventing the wheel, its combination of melancholic yet energetic indie rock and subtle post punk nevertheless proved to be a refreshing listen in an increasingly stale scene oversaturated with mediocrity. Since then, and with the help of Alligator's sequel, Boxer, The National have established themselves as one of the leading forces on modern indie scene. The announcement of their next release, titled High Violet, therefore raised questions whether they could live up to the hype so successfully stirred up around them. Fortunately, they are not a one trick pony and have what it takes to remain relevant in today's music industry. As a result, The National slightly alter their signature sound found on previous releases and craft one of the most rewarding albums of the past few years.

 

Released in 2010, High Violet is the band's most mature effort to date and as such requires time to fully appreciate its slightly different approach. From the onset, it is apparent that this is not quite the same band that produced the youthfully careless Alligator or its more serious successor, Boxer. Gone, for the most part, are the gentle, tasteful guitar lines and unrelenting drum beats. Instead, the opener “Terrible Love” sets the tone for the whole album with its haunting piano keys that echo alongside heavily reverbed guitar. True, additional arrangements have always been an integral part of The National's sound but were never dominant in the mix. In High Violet, piano, brass and strings take the front seat, rendering the music noticeably slower, more somber and brooding. There's very little to sink your teeth into during the first few listens as the songs seemingly meld together with their gloomy, downcast melodies and subdued vocals. There are no straight-up rockers in the vein of Mr. November or Abel to be found here either. Tracks like “Sorrow”, “England” and especially the slow burner “Runaway” seem to possess none of the energy displayed on the band's previous outputs. Only after multiple listens the album's individual pieces will start to differentiate from each other, revealing the band's increased instrumental scope and emphasis on carefully structured songs that convey a feeling of repressed urgency. Moreover, High Violet sees the band upgrading the dynamics of their compositions, giving the songs more room to develop and grow. While songs like “Terrible Love” and “Afraid of Everyone” may open up in a rather stripped down fashion, they slowly build upon themselves as the band gradually adds more texture to the songs, often blossoming in their dying seconds. Essentially, the individual songs tend to unfold rather than progress and it's virtually impossible to finish a song in the same manner it started. In short, it is their ability, their natural need to progress that sets the band apart from the myriad of stagnant acts dominating today's indie scene.

 

Despite the logical evolution of the band's music, High Violet is still a The National album at its very heart. Matt Berninger's easily recognizable baritone voice still serves as the centerpiece of the band's music, yet it's not the voice itself that stands out. It's the amateur, almost careless manner in which Matt delivers it that grants the music the special vibe only The National could create. Not relying on elaborate vocal effects or post-production tricks, Matt instead uses an offhand and monotone style to convey a feeling of utter honesty. The lyrics themselves are wonderfully poetic in the fact that they're almost impossible to comprehend. Phrases like "All our lonely kicks are getting harder to find, we'll play nuns versus priests until somebody cries" or "Now we'll leave the silver city 'cause all the silver girls gave us black dreams" may sound ridiculous at first listen but once they're heard in the context of The National's music they will sound like the most natural lines ever. In addition, the drumming of Brian Devendorf is still frenetic when it needs to be. Sure, it's all been toned down significantly in High Violet, but the boldness to accompany a soft piano ballad with his trademark frenetic drumming is a proof of just how self-confident he and the band as a whole have become. All in all, High Violet still carries the unmistakable The National personality and shouldn't be a drastic surprise for long-time fans.

 

When all is said and done, one would be hard-pressed to find a more consistent band than The National on the contemporary indie scene. While albums like For Emma, Forever Ago by Bon Iver or Deehunter's Halcyon Digest prove that the indie scene still has a handful of quality artists to offer, the vast majority either fails to impress more than once or is not worth listening to at all. With High Violet, The National show that they continue to carve their own niche in the overcrowded music industry – and to great results.

 

Adam Frank

 

Comments

Date: 15/03/2012

By: Abigor

Subject: That pretentious BS

Trying to sound intelligent, are we?
I still have that urge of mine.
Nice pic, though.

Date: 16/03/2012

By: Adam Frank

Subject: Re: That pretentious BS

pretty sure youre trying to "troll" me in some way but im gonna respond anyway to cement your position as a total idiot, whoever you are

if you think this review is me trying to sound intelligent then clearly youve never read a review on a "professional" site and have no idea what youre talking about

Date: 19/03/2012

By: Abigor

Subject: Re: Re: That pretentious BS

A "professional" site, you say. Those inverted commas are very appropriate.

I believe we've got ourselves a new article to lull us to sleep; moreover, a mag tosser (AKA you) has got his ego trip. Thank you, Mr Frank, insomniacs don't need their pills anymore. They're much obliged, I'm sure.

Date: 20/03/2012

By: AF

Subject: Re: Re: Re: That pretentious BS

it took you 3 days but you finally managed to counter with the most irrelevant thing!

if you have no more empty phrases to throw at me i consider this 'argument' to be over and you should probably learn not to get butthurt

Date: 21/03/2012

By: Abigor

Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: That pretentious BS

Mr Frank, Unlike you I have a personal life. As for my empty phrases, you ought to focus on improving your articles and using your vocabulary correctly, you little wanker.

Date: 21/03/2012

By: AF

Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: That pretentious BS

yea 1 article and 2 comments exposing your stupidity are clearly an accurate indicator of my personal life! youre really on the ball here

how can i improve my articles and vocabulary then. im all ears

Date: 22/03/2012

By: Abigor

Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: That pretentious BS

Calm down, no need to get agitated.
I keep repeating myself but I give credit where credit is due. Yet this is not the case.

Date: 25/03/2012

By: AF

Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: That pretentious BS

(not sure if trolling or just stupid) again, no feedback whatsoever. lol

ive already conceded in my first comment that youre an idiot so you can stop cluttering my article with your dumbass comments

Date: 25/03/2012

By: Abigor

Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: That pretentious BS

Of course, you're being trolled.
But no feedback? It's pretentious. Full of cliches. Have you ever heard of editing? Tone it down accordingly.

Date: 25/03/2012

By: AF

Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: That pretentious BS

whoa you managed to emulate your first comment. i think were making some progress here

can you stop being so vague and actually elaborate on why is it sooo pretentious and cliche (wow really). if you expected another pathetic excuse for an article like those of that other idiot whose idea of a review is a vague track-by-track then yea i guess this work is pretty mind-boggling (unless youre him, in which case - stop writing. forever)

1 | 2 >>

New comment