Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Album review - The National 'High Violet'

The National
‘High Violet’

THE OPENING tracks on The National’s third and fourth studio albums - Alligator and Boxer respectively - were instantly engaging, incandescent tracks that set the brooding tone that followed.
‘Terrible Love’, the brooding epic on the Brooklyn-based band’s fifth studio record, High Violet, is no ‘Secret Meeting’ or ‘Fake Empire’. Doused in militaristic drumming and throbbing guitars - as is The National’s trademark - High Violet takes some time to reach the epic heights of the openings to the album’s critically acclaimed predecessors, but by the time it has come, the Cincinnati formed band have worked themselves, and the listener, into something of a subtle tizzy.
The lead single, ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’, is the emotional centrepiece of this album, an astonishing continuation of a richly textured period for the band. The effervescent track sees vocalist Matt Beringer allow his rich baritone to be at the beating heart of the song, allowing himself - as in other places on this album - to stretch his vocal chords toward breaking point.
As with most of Beringer’s vivid lyrics, they are opaque and difficult to permeate - ‘I was carried, to Ohio on a swarm of bees’ - but this is one song you won’t be able to get out of your head after even the merest of listens.
The spooky, spine tingling ‘Afraid of Everyone’ is another stand-out track, while ‘England’ - possibly a paean to the band’s spiritual home - is the most musical song that The National have offered in recent years.
The kooky album closer, Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks is, bizarrely, one of the most uplifting, soaring tracks you will hear this year.
The National, channelling The Cure and Joy Division through a modern, indie-rock standpoint - a la contemporaries Arcade Fire and TV On The Radio - feel like the anti-Springsteen on this album, such is the restraint shown on tracks such as ‘Sorrow’ and ‘Anyone’s Ghost’.
There is a tenderness and subtlety that mirrors the band’s ascent to greatness, slow and deliberate, but gathering increasing speed.
There is no doubt that Beringer’s baritone will continue to prove divisive, but for those willing to delve in, this is an astonishingly powerful record that will reveal its richness with every listen. RATING: 4/5

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