11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply stunning
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...
Published on 12 May 2011 by Josh Saus
1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Stoned crimson
A strange album with none of the immediacy of Alligator or Boxer or stand out classic tracks like Start a War or Daughters of the Soho Riots. The lyrics are as impenetrable as ever with the National, and I am old enough to be slightly disturbed by some of the graphic sexual content of the lyrics. Having said all that this album has all the luxurious drama and coolness of...
Published on 13 July 2011 by D. Carmichael
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Get the headphones on!,
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..
4.0 out of 5 stars Have The National Sold Out?, Not On Y'r Nelly.,
'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.
5.0 out of 5 stars Career Best...,
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?
5.0 out of 5 stars Elegant Magnificence,
Where to start? I fell in love with the National most unexpectedly one day when my ipod randomly played a track from Alligator. I'd dismissed them as "boring". 2 years later Boxer is still the most played album I own. Obviously I was excited to hear this was coming out and have been listening to the album stream constantly over the last week, and then saw them last night at the Albert Hall.
I'm one of the conventional thinkers as far as this band is concerned - every album has been better than the last. Where some people draw parallels with REM - seeing a band gradually getting the recognition they deserve - I would counter by saying that many REM fans think Murmur (the debut) is REM's finest album. Nobody would say that about the National's mediocre first album. Sad Songs and Alligator were much better but does this new one stand up to Boxer? At first its a resounding "maybe".
Terrible Love is a great opener - spoiled slightly by a murky production. Sorrow sort of slides by without making too much impression at first. Anyone's Ghost is the first real treat, it's beautiful and spare. Little Faith is not at all immediate, and if you get here and are thinking "meh" then who can blame you. Thankfully there is not another note out of place. Afraid of Everyone builds magnificently, a trademark building crescendo of a song. Bloodbuzz takes two listens and doesn't leave you - driven by some terrific drumming. (The drumming throughout is hugely reminiscent of Joy Division). Lemonworld is a cool tune which I would have thought would work brilliantly live. They didn't play it so what do I know! Runaway is a slow stately song in the same vein as Green Gloves from Boxer. The next two are the high water mark of the album: Conversation 16 and England. The former is just a beautiful melody coupled with harmonies and a great percussion track. The latter a slow burning anthem complete with evocative brass blasts - it's the best song both live and on this record. Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks is a frankly bizarre closing track which punctures the mood of the previous song with a sing-a-long chorus.
If you put this in a ring with Boxer I'd say Boxer would just about win on points but ask me in 6 months time. I reckon I'll still be playing it then.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Your voice is swallowing my soul, soul, soul,
Like the previous reviewer, I have been enjoying the stream of this over at the New York Times website. I'm going through my third listen as I write this, and it gets better each time I hear it.
The National are arguably the flagbearers of a real resurgence in American independent music. They have gained praise from fans and critics alike for their prior two records, Alligator and Boxer, in a similar manner to how R.E.M. became a word of mouth sensation in the early 80s.
High Violet, their fifth release, is for me the perfect blend of the styles of those two records - Alligator's in your face memorable hooks meets Boxer's measured slow burning approach. Lead single "Bloodbuzz Ohio" and "Afraid of Everyone" are prime examples: both have ridiculously catchy lyrics and yet both songs have a wonderful build as well. "Lemonworld" and "Anyone's Ghost" are in a similar vein and are also highlights.
From start to finish the quality just doesn't dip. The arrangements and playing by the brothers Dessner and Devendorf are assured, intricate and give the songs great depth, while Matt Berninger's lyrics feature great imagery and are very thought provoking.
This album simply hooks you in and has you begging for another listen so you can attempt to decipher it's rich and pleantiful wonders.
As far as I'm concerned, May 10th can't come fast enough.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow,
Its to my great shame that I have taken so long to find out about The National. This time last week my life was less enriched than it is now, thanks to this album, and it's sibling album "The Boxer" This is proper music, intelligent, articulate, multifaceted, emotional.....I have listened to the album 3 times now and with each play I'm further emerged in it. You continually discover new things, nuances, meanings of lyrics...its the gift that keeps on giving.
Buy this album, no ifs or buts....its truly a masterpiece!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect Sombre Music,
The sounds may be dark and depressing, and you might want to listen to something a little happier afterwards, but the music is excellent nonetheless. All the songs fit together well into a cohesive album, but all stand out as songs to go back to in their own right.
There is but one problem with the album - it has the original version of Terrible Love on it. Do yourself a favour and buy the Alternate Version that comes on the expanded CD and give it a listen, as it's far better mixed.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More than the sum of its parts,
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....
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very High Violet,
I'm probably one of the many people whom has only recently discovered The National, but this album has blown me away on a number of levels - the high quality of the songwriting, the overall production and as another reviewer has said, the ability to 'tingle arms'.
'England' was the first track which I heard from this album. It's the reason I watched them at Glastonbury, but at no point was I expecting to come away from that afternoon set a converted fan. As it is, I rushed out to purchase the limited purple double-vinyl set and have since purchased it also on CD for the car.
The first time I listened to it, I still wasn't sure; the first 4 or 5 songs didn't grab me like I thought they would but then 'Bloodbuzz Ohio' kicks in and it all seems to start making sense. Tracks 7 to 10 are incredible. I still love 'England', with the almost-perfect line 'You must be somewhere in London, you must be loving your life in the rain'. 'Lemonworld' isn't a songtitle which would have you running for the 'play' button, but believe me when I tell you that it's an amazing track. It's the kind of song which makes me want to fly to America, hire a convertible and drive across from Florida to California, listening to this song on the CD player. 'Conversation 16' is similarly stunning - I simply love the line "Now we'll leave the silver city 'cause all the silver girls gave us black dreams".
If this album doesn't appear in countless "albums of the year" at the end of 2010, then something's seriously wrong. 2010 has surprised (and surpassed) my expectations. After serious disappointment earlier in the year from the likes of Ellie Goulding's and Marina & The Diamonds' albums, 2010 has seen some seriously good releases - the Domino State's debut album 'Uneasy Lies The Crown', Serena-Maneesh's 'Abyss In B Minor', Exit Calm's eponymous debut - and now this.
This album is a fantastic listen. Definitely Recommended.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfection,
Quite simply the best album of the past two years and possibly my favorate album since Mercury Rev's Deserters Songs in 1999. Rock music just doesn't get much better than this. Classic and contemporary and not a bum moment. I must admit to coming to the National late - but I've now got the back catalogue! You must own this brilliant record.
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