Music review: The National – High Violet (2010)


The National are a band of friends from Cincinnati, OH that now call the great borough of Brooklyn home. I first was exposed to this band back when their album “Boxer” was released in 2007. I immediately enjoyed that record and went through their back catalogue like a bat out of hell. They have quickly become one of my favorite bands.

Needless to say, I was pretty happy when I heard that their newest, “High Violet” leaked onto these here interwebs this past Monday. I’m seeing them twice this week and being able to hear the new material before it’s performed is a nice treat.

That being said, I was pretty bowled over when I heard this record. It’s easily my choice for “album of the year” right now. It’s that damn good.

The album opens with the track, “Terrible Love” which was performed on Jimmy Fallon’s show a few weeks ago. I was immediately impressed with that performance. As for the album track, it is a bit underwhelming when taken in context with the rest of the album. While it fits and I like it, the production seems a little off to my ears. This may also be because the source of the listen is an MP3 leak, so I’m going to reserve opinion on that particular track until I get a few more listens when the album is released for real.

I’ve listened to this album 11 times in 3 days according to iTunes. The thing that is stunning to me, is aside from the opening track, which I do like performance wise, is there is not one weak track on it. Matt Berninger’s vocals shine and his baritone is clearly in the forefront. This is also one of the strongest bands lyrically going today + they are very technically sound.

Following the opening track, the album begins to unfold in some pretty special ways. Track #2, “Sorrow” is a beautiful and well, sorrowful song. It doesn’t hurt that I can personally relate to it at this moment.  The refrain sends shivers down my spine, and Berninger’s vocals are absolutely on point, which is a running theme throughout the record.

Early favorites from the record include the aforementioned, “Sorrow“, and most especially tracks 3-5. Track #4, “Little Faith” is a soaring ballad with lines like “All our lonely kids are getting harder to find, we’ll play nuns versus priests til somebody cries…” that have become a staple of this wonderful band. Another favorite, track #3, “Anyone’s Ghost” is already a top play of mine. It’s a rather simple tune that comes off to me as an examination of human loneliness.  The first half of the album is very accessible, with the 2nd half being more of a slow burn percolation. Track #5, “Afraid of Everyone“, is absolutely spectacular and has already become a favorite of mine this year by any band.

I’m still soaking in this album and loving every second of it. It’s not often I find a record with songs that I can listen to 12 times in a row to alone (I did that with Anyone’s Ghost).  I cannot recommend a record released or to-be-released in 2010 more at this time. If you are new to this band, this is a perfect introduction and a fitting addition to the band’s catalogue. This may be their penultimate record up to this point. It’s clearly a band that is consistently getting better and opening up their sound to new ideas. It may be cliche, but I look at “The National” as the American Radiohead, which I think is a fitting and worthy comparison, albeit these guys are more straight forward in their lyrical approach and musical presentation.

High Violet drops on May 11th and it can’t come soon enough. The National play The National Theatre in Richmond, VA this week on April 22nd and April 23rd, which also can’t come soon enough.

Rating: *****/5 – a first for this blog.

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