on 12 May 2011
When i was first given this album, I was a bit dubious. On first listen it sounded a bit monotonous- Matt Berninger's baritone seemingly numbing the subtle, low key tunes. However, gradually, tracks began to bloom. The second half of the album did this first- Lemon World's unusual detail in the chorus was quickly overwhelmed by some of the most beautiful verses i've heared- once they've caught, you'll do well to stop listening to it all day. Vanderlyle- the last track and England, the penultimate one, soon became tracks I would enjoy immensely. However, it's the first half of the album that eventually offered the most. Tracks 1,3 4 and 5 all gleamed after a number of listens into some of my favourite tracks of the year. But it's Sorrow that has overwhelmed me. You'll do well to find a subtler, more beautiful song than this.
On reflection, this is certainly one of the best albums i've owned; the coherence of the entire listen, and the incredible quality of the individual tracks themselves all make a remarkable piece of work.
If you're put off by the first couple of listens, please persist. It'll reward you many times over
on 11 October 2011
This is music to mend the tortured of souls of those who're considered (and in many cases are) mature and experienced. Not to mend exactly, actually, since when you're such in a state, most of the time you only want to be heard by someone. Just to be heard. A voice full of discomfort and anxiety that just wishes to be heard. And to be heard by someone not to be given solutions, criticism or plans. It's just about a voice of a soul survivor, of a man or woman witness of the times that they had to live. A voice. The only thing among silence and the only thing which is capable to confront the relentless persistence of memory and unforgiveness. It's about how you become older, and even though you still have plans and wishes for the future, you just come outside to smoke a cigarette and take a look at all things that have passed in front of yours eyes and you realize how much you had to do of all to which you were completely opposed. As clames the magnificent Runaway: "What makes you think that I'm enjoying this? / We don't bleed and we don't fight. / Go ahead, go ahead. / Throw your arms in the air tonight. /Throw your shirts in the fire tonight." Just come to terms with the things lost in the fire of time, take your dignity and renaissance in water and keep on walking, 'cause there's nothing left to do anymore. We're the soul survivors.
on 22 May 2010
Other people's reviews of the music you love can be annoying, can't they? Even when they're praising the music you love. Often the most intense sensations great music induces are best left undescribed, and people's opinions only get in the way of the music. The National confirm with this album that they are the finest band on the planet, and are now arguably the finest band ever to come out of the States. It's not just the memorable use of melody, it's the amount of detail that is breathed into their musical landscapes. It's the breathtaking synergy of music and lyric. Berninger is the obvious star, but the music spotlights his once-in-a-generation sensibility. 'England' is arguably the best thing they've ever recorded, its melancholy sweep simultaneously grand and intimate; 'Terrible Love' is one of their most brilliantly dynamic and original pieces, and acts as a real attention-getter at the start, making you aware that you're in for something very special. The 'cos I'm evil' refrain of 'Conversation 16' is one of the absolute highlights of the album. 'Runaway' provides arguably the most affecting moment on the album, Berninger insisting 'We don't bleed when we don't fight', but implying they fight like cats and dogs in contravention of this sound logic. It's a piece that grows and grows with each listen. Originally I thought 'Bloodbuzz Ohio' was a slightly weak centre to the album, but this too asserts itself with Berninger's heartfelt 'God I am', and the despairing emptiness of returning to your native place and finding it doesn't give a fig about you. 'Little Faith' is a slight departure with its bassline groove, and is one of the album's most subtle delights. 'Sorrow' is flatout brilliance, as immediate and powerful and direct as a funeral. 'Anyone's Ghost' hooks every time with its 'I don't want anybody else' refrain, but the best bit is when Berninger sings: 'You said it was night inside my heart - it was! You said it should tear a kid apart - it does!' The family man of Afraid of Everyone is a tragi-comic figure, a kind of American everyman in the age of terrorism and social entropy, defending his family with nothing more than an orange umbrella and some starspangled tennis shoes on his feet. The closer, 'Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks,' is lyrically opaque, melodically amazing, resonating gospelly in the chorus, it's the song I keep singing to myself, even though I have no idea what it means. The album is way better than Boxer, way better than Alligator, both of which were unbelievably great. How long can a band keep developing the way The National have? I reckon they probably have one more interstellar album in them, which may even top this one. But it will take a Herculean effort.
If you have been with them a while, you have , I suspect been frustrated at how such musical magnificence can go so unnoticed. Surely they can't go on producing such statuesque musical moments of beauty, without the world sitting up and taking notice. It seems the world is, if the 'buzz' about High Violet is anything to go by, at last coming to its senses. If you heard Boxer then you may well have wondedered if it could be done again or bettered.Well I will be honest I dont know yet- its feels as good, but dont know if it will linger in my head and create such devotion as Boxer did.
As I write I am listening to 'England', my arms are tingling,it is spellbinding. Hyperbolae ? exaggeration? No, I kid you not, this band are as perfect as you are going to get, musically, lyrically and as good as it gets. it has one minor flaw, there isn't an immediately accessible track, that makes you go around humming its tune (as is 'Fake Empire from Boxer), 'Lemonworld' is as near as this album gets to catchy. So where does the force come from, as usual its Matt Beringers voice (haunting without trying) and if you are sick of basic 4/4/ drumming, then have a listen to some of the magnificent drum patterns that weave around sparse guitar work and gentle piano.I have read somewhere they did 80 takes of one song, then plumped for the original take-you get that feeling of dedication and intensity on every song.
Its intense, powerfully subtle, and quite beautiful.
I dont care if its deemed album of the year, its my album of the moment, a bone fide masterpiece.It has restored my faith in new music
I love The National and I confess that I have been listening to this album for a while now. For me the new record had a lot to live up to. It doesn't disappoint!
Fans all know that the music of The National gets better the more you listen (and concentrate). Highly emotive, poetic lyrics, layered orchestration, complex driving drums, cinematic vistas are all present and correct here. What lifts the new record above all previous efforts is the added layers of vocal backing (thanks to Justin Vernon of Bon Iver), which now adds in Beach Boys levels of harmony to the mix on some tracks.
Matt Berninger's limited range baritone is perfectly offset by the new soundscape. As ever, he captures the sad fractured anxiety / bombast of middle-aged, middle-class males. He certainly has a way with words, but it is the way that words combine with the music that marks out The National as something very special.
This is slightly quieter album than Boxer and Alligator. The result is the subtly of the arrangements is given space to breath. It will be interesting to see how this plays out live.
So overall High Violet stands as another brilliant album from an excellent band. Place your order now!
The American music blogs have been boiling over like excited Icelandic volcano's about the release of "High Violet" not least of all because of the National's recent brilliant performance of the epic opener "Terrible love" on the Jimmy Fallon show. The National it appears have found a match to "Fake Empire" from Boxer and "Terrible Love" signals the beginning of an album which might make this sibling heavy band from Cincinnati candidates for world domination. The National are comprised of two sets of brothers the twin guitar-playing Bryce and Aaron Dessner and Bryan and Scott Devendorf, respectively on drums and bass. It is vocalist Matt Berninger however who is there most powerful weapon with a baritone voice that does have real limitations but which he effortlessly turns into a significant asset. It's lovelorn and melancholy timbre once led to unfair accusations that the National were a bunch of Interpol or Joy Division copyists and the word "gloomy" regularly cropped up in articles on the band. There last album "Boxer" firmly laid that ghost to rest putting in place one of the most complete and "uplifting" albums in recent years which grows on every listen and with songs like "Racing like a pro", "Ada", "Mistaken for Strangers" and "Brainy" demonstrating that elusive edge that all Premier division rock bands have over their immediate contemporaries.
So we come to the National's new album "High Violet" which fully justifies the "fit to bursting" anticipation which has swirled around its release and which the New York Times rightly argues sees this band reach out to create "a powerful, probing feeling for the inner lives of average people out in the American heartland". and set out a huge claim to be the Great American Band. Thank you in addition to the wonderful Amazon pre order system which transported a copy of "High Violet" to this humble abode a full four days before its "official" release date.
"High Violet" largely meets and often exceeds the burgeoning anticipation that has preceded its release. It marks a dramatic step up in the quality of songs and the underpinning musicianship. The excellent single "Bloodbuzz Ohio" has been well trailed while the sombre but dramatic "Lemonworld" is hugely engaging. In the heart wrenching "Little Faith" Berninger sings of being "stuck in New York in a rainstorm" as the instrumentation around him swirls and you can almost hear the raindrops on the sidewalk. Four songs in particular that anchor this album which are "Runaway", "Terrible love" and "Afraid of everyone" and the truly brilliant "Conversation 16" all are instant classics. "Runaway" in particular has been previewed live for over a year and in that time the National have perfected it. Building and building, never consciously overstated it is slow rolling ballad and probably represents Berninger's best vocal performance to date. "Conversation 16" is a stunning highlight with brilliant drumming (a key feature throughout), a yearning timeless melody and gorgeous verses where Berninger speaks of leaving the "silver city to all the silver girls" and announces that -
"I'm a confident liar
Had my head in the oven so you'd know where I'll be
I'll try to be more romantic
I want to believe in everything you believe"
It can only be an American for example who could sing a song like "England" and actually pull it off with its lovely ode to London. I have no idea what are "Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks" but the last song with its guest vocal from Bon Iver confirms that the second half of "High Violet" is especially strong. This is not an album that fizzles out over its course instead it builds to a mighty crescendo. Other songs on the album like "Sorrow" and "Anyone's ghost" are more conventional National songs which on any other album would be absolute stand outs but the quality of the music on High Violet is so high its almost like a game of musical chairs as the songs demand there place on your rotation list and you are left to agonize over which one you should listen to next. As far as I can tell on repeated listens to this over the recent period this is a "dud" free zone and this is at a point where it has yet to fully reveal all its hidden depths.
The National have also packed this album with guest players such as Sufjan Stevens on "Afraid of Everyone", Richie Reed Parry (Arcade Fire) and Thomas Bartlett (Doveman) which adds to its completeness. Ultimately "High Violet" not only cements the National's reputation as the complete package with three damn near perfect albums under their belts from "Alligator" onwards, but more importantly like all great albums "High Violet" stands in its own right as a bold and beautiful statement. Like a great novel it is a remarkable and fully finished piece of work, one of the best of the century thus far and a complete and utter triumph.
on 6 November 2011
What defines a great album? One characteristic is that the album leaves you feeling that the whole experience is somehow greater than just listening to each track separately. Think about Exile on Main Street - two or three instant standouts granted, but its the whole start-to-finish experience that makes it THE Rolling Stones record. For me the same applies to High Violet - The National have created not just a wonderful record, but a suite of songs where the whole is mightier than its component parts. However good its predecessor (Boxer) was, it didn't achieve this and therefore The National continue to move triumphantly forwards.
Two pleas - I hope the one star reviewers here give High Violet another go - they are missing a real treat. Also, with more and more folk going for mix-and-match track downloads will the true artistry of the coherent album statement be lost forever?? Shame, shame, shame....
on 11 May 2010
I first came across the National when somebody recommended Alligator to me. Got the album and didnt stop playing it for months, it's just one of those albums that you never seem to tire of hearing. Then, when Boxer came out in 2007, and on the back of the brilliant lead single Mistaken for Strangers, i with eager anticipation slipped the disc into the cd player in my car, waited for the fireworks to start, and..... nothing. What a disappointment. Coupled with a poor release from Interpol that summer it represented the nadir of that year musically. Then a strange thing happened, about 3 months later i was sitting in my home "office" late one night with a glass of single malt whisky, looking for an album to put on, and decided i owed Boxer the benefit of the doubt. Out came the headphones and on went the CD. This became a feature of Autumn 2007, me sitting late at night with the "cans" on, drink in hand, marvelling at the revelation of one great song after another- notably Fake Empire, Brainy, Slow Show, Guest Room and Start a War. It's a wonderful album (though not without flaw)but it just doesn't suit (IMO) being played as background music or in the car, it's an intense, brooding collection of songs that demands your full attention.
And so to High Violet. Naturally, having received the album i played it in the car out of curiosity but it just took me back to the above occassion 3 years ago. Only difference was this time i didnt panic, i just waited for darkness, crept upstairs cd in hand (sadly no whisky)and put it on.First impressions were that Peter Katis'(a very underrated producer in my opinion)reduced involvement in production duties was noticeable, particularly on Terrible Love, but that all the ingredients are there as with Boxer of an album that will be regularly listened to for months and years to come. Standout tracks for me; Sorrow, Anyone's Ghost, and Conversation 16 (if you thought Brainy was a little creepy, wait for the "i was afraid i'd eat your brains" refrain- no ordinary break-up song). But generally strong all the way through. I give it 4 stars rather than 5 at this point (2 full listens) because to do so would be more a review of Boxer and Alligator than on its own merits, but i think with enough late nights and whisky it has got the "minerals" to get that fifth star. So buy it, and get your headphones on..
on 14 May 2010
'I don't feel like an entertainer, I'm socially awkward. I'm not comfortable in crowds, so being on stage is not a comfortable place to be. I would'nt call it stagefright, but I don't think any of us like to have the lights on us.' Matt Berninger, lead vocalist of The National.
Well, Matt Berninger, if this fifth release is anything to go by, then you may well have to learn to love those lights.
The National are clearly a band currently stuck at a crossroads. Four albums into their career, they find themselves sharing the Radio 1 playlist with acts such as Titcy Stryder & Ellie Goulding, selling out at The Royal Albert Hall within 5 minutes of tickets going on sell and increasingly becoming the musical darlings of bloggers & reviewers the world over. This is an incredible acheivement by any standards, but to do it within the current climate of general dissillusion and disinterest that the music world is currently experiencing is truly monumental. Also taking into account the subject matters that generally permatate their material (namely, social discomfort and adult worries) and you can obviously see that something weird is happening in the waters that surround castle National.
'High Violet' is a very dark affair. Previous albums such as 'Alligator' or 'The Boxer' punctured the dark, impeading air with sharp blasts of adrenilen-fuelled-taste-the-blood-in-the-mouth moments of release (Mr November, Able, Mistaken For Strangers), that seemed to offer the band therapy away from the meticulously planned songs that sometimes seem to cocoon them. The five Ohians-via-Brooklyn members of the group (Aaron Dessner, Bryce Dessner, Matt Berninger, Bryan Devendorf and Scott Devendorf) always give the impression that they suffer from colective perfectionism, every second of every song feels like its been rehearsed ad nausium in which to reach its full potential and no moment is ever left to chance. This style, of course, has it's own down-sides with the band sometimes coming unstuck when their songs can come across as muscially restricted and devoid of emotion, but when the songs are so well written (see 'Sorrow', 'Afraid Of Everyone' or 'England') any such problems are quickly disspelled and the emotion in Berninger's vocals & lyrics are able to rise to the top. But only lead-off single 'Bloodbuzz Ohio' offers any glimpse of light amongst the dark shadows that take residence throughout the rest of the record.
As a collective, the group are really on top of their game with this release. Copius amount of piano, cello, violin, harp, percussion and (thanks to Sufjan Stevens) Harmonium dominate the sound and the various use of backing vocals & harmonies (The Beach Boys would be proud of the finale to 'Conversation 16') give the album a beautifully varied and solid foundation to which Berninger can add his barotoned vocals. And what about that voice?, there is no doubt in my mind that Berninger currently owns one of America's greatest vocal ranges. He seems to mumble his way through most songs, almost forcing the listener to strain in order to hear what he's actually singing about, and then he releases a thunderous racket just moments later (see the refrain at the climax to 'Afraid Of Everyone').
Many people have been comparing The National to 'Automatic For The People'-era R.E.M. I feel this comparison is justified, as much like Michael Stripe & co, The National have steadily built up a dedicated following and have now reached a point where they can legitimatly take a shot at the big time. But any thoughts that the band have sold out in their goal are unfounded. This is still The National of old and any fans of their earlier work will find plenty to enjoy with this record.
on 12 May 2010
The online buzz surrounding this latest release by this Ohio-formed, Brooklyn-based (aren't they all?) indie rock band has been surprising to say the least. Already a slow-burning phenomenon themselves, they have been toiling away, releasing records since 2001 with little fuss, but steadily, refining their sound with nary a care about succumbing to current trends or scenes. The previous two albums, 2005's `Alligator' and 2007's `Boxer' have seen them reach a wider audience, but they have never really threatened to penetrate the mainstream. This is why it has been so surprising to witness the fervour surrounding each leaked track, each poorly-recorded demo that has surfaced online. It's akin to Johnny Cash releasing songs from beyond the grave, and that's impossible, right?
All of which meant, that when the album actually did surface, fans were already quite well-acquainted with a lot of the material. The main gripe, reading through various messageboards, is that opener, `Terrible Love' didn't quite match up to when they performed it on the Jimmy Fallon show. There may be some truth in those claims, on first listen, I thought I had received a dud copy, as the sound quality is like that of a muffled demo. Having said that, that is the only gripe, and having not seen the Fallon performance, I have nothing to compare it with. It could just sound better. It is a tremendous song.
Matt Berninger's deep baritone is prevalent and high in the mix throughout, and each track has layers of density: pianos, clarinets, cellos, electronics, violin, everything, but all blend smoothly and it doesn't feel overdone at all. Sufjan Stevens and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver guest, as do members of Arcade Fire and all add perfectly to the mix. It's never a case of too many cooks.
It's hard to pick a standout track, as this is a heavyweight album, all killer, no filler. There really aren't enough superlatives to do this stellar album justice. It swims gracefully from beginning to end, and the track sequencing is perfect. Perhaps the lead single `Bloodbuzz Ohio', a paean to their home state, is the most anthemic and instantly gratifying. When I say `anthemic', I don't mean feel-good, arms-around-your-best-mate Oasis-style anthems, I mean heavy anthems of despair, emptiness and being messed up, and in my opinion, all the best music is not about happy-clapping optimism, although there is certainly a place for that. No, this is deep, and demands your attention and repeated plays to discover the layers and hidden depths.
So, do yourself a favour, if you've never heard this band, go out and get it. If you have heard of this band, it's a step higher than their previous offerings, the bar has been raised. One thing's for sure, you will hear this band a lot, and like the band itself, it's an album that is timeless, there is scant regard for zeitgeist-hugging scenester bandwagon-hopping here, and it's built to last.
The online buzz is justified. Believe the hype. Besides, who could resist an album with a song called `Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks' on it?