The National have five regular band members (2 of which look like they could do a very respectable Gregory House impression if the sleeve is anything to go by). This is the Nationals fifth album, following on from the acclaimed, but all too rarely heard, 'Boxer', 'Agitator', 'Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers' and their eponymous debut. The National have gone from relative obscurity to chart at number 5 in the UK. Clearly 3 is no longer the magic number for the boys from Cincinnati, Ohio. (If only there was a 5AD).
High Violet is eleven superbly crafted tunes that are full of depth and beauty. Each track is generously layered to reveal hidden facets with every listen. Keep peeling away and you will be justly rewarded with character, charm and subtle complexity. Recorded in Aaron Dessner's Brooklyn garage and then mixed by long term collaborator Peter 'Interpol' Katis, High Violet also features the work of antipodean string arranger Padma Newsome as well as the delectable talents of Sufjan Stevensz.
Opener, 'Terrible Love', starts rather like The Jesus And Mary Chain trying to do a ballad, feedback and fuzz spliced with great harmonies. There is a foreboding within the song that builds and gathers momentum to deliver a terrifically intense and climactic conclusion. 'Sorrow' , the Americans equivalent of a morose 'Elbow' tune, is a wonderfully evocative tale of lost love complete with strings and choral backing.
"Sorrow found me when I was young,
sorrow waited, sorrow won.....
.....I don't wanna get over you."
The brooding, almost overbearing intimacy, continues on 'Anyone's Ghost', a piece of claustrophobic drama. Matt Berninger's deep baritone notes ooze through 'Little Faith' bleeding into the song like Quink on cartridge paper..."We'll play Nuns vs Priest until somebody cries." The guitar and drum work on 'Afraid Of Everyone' are phenomenally effective with an air of the Arcade Fire about them. The presence in the vocal delivery continues at the forefront with 'Bloodbuzz Ohio' an intense piece full of passion and delivered at you with unwavering contact. A sermon sung just for you.
The Peter Katis mix is never as apparent as a stylised reference until 'Lemonworld'. Here, rather than letting the individual elements of the instrumentation breathe, the sound is fused into a more sweeping movement, even giving the vocal less range and effect. This is not to say that the track is worse off for the treatment, merely that although it is in evidence elsewhere on High Violet, this is where it shows itself in the production the most.
The album finishes just as credibly as it started. 'Runaway' explores a more acoustic, and bassy, avenue. 'Conversation #16' feels out a 'Fleet Fox' furrow but with a darker, cloud filled, heavy atmosphere of tension...."When I said what I said I didn't mean anything." 'England' builds with strings and baritone as well as a little brass accompaniment. And to round off the eleven, 'Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks', is a fittingly moody and curious conundrum to close.
High Violet has driven The National into the public arena with a quality album full of remarkable songs. An album of the day on the rejuvenated 6 Music and already tipped as a "Potential album of the year" High Violet is as good as it sounds, and it sounds better every time!
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