The National: High Violet

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The National 

Written By:

Aidan Williamson

03rd May 2010
At 01:01 GMT

5 comment(s)

"What goes up, must come down". A phrase as ubiquitous as it is wrong. Anyone familiar with Isaac Newton's first law of motion will tell you so. Anyone who uses a mobile phone without wondering why the satellite which connects it isn't plunging towards them, burning up in the atmosphere until only an earth-bound flaming toilet seat remains to disintegrate their body, will tell you so.

If something travels fast enough, it can stay in orbit forever, a balance between gravity and velocity. So all of those awaiting The National's plunge back to earth are going to be heartily disappointed with High Violet. For a band does not have to follow an album as mesmerising and beloved as 2007's Boxer with a less-than-impressive sequel. No, for that band, it is perfectly feasible for them to deliver another, equally mesmerising album. A feat which The National have performed this very album.

In terms of appeal, the Brooklyn quintet are likely to appeal to many of the fans which held tightly to the early work of Interpol and Hope of the States. The same soothing baritone is present, the same embrace of spellbinding orchestral elements, the same disdain for the hackneyed formula of modern rock. The National let the art dictate the size of the canvas, never vice versa. Of course there are few actual sonic similarities between the bands mentioned and The National besides anecdotal evidence. Matt Berninger is content with a hypnotic baritone, rarely stretching beyond a fairly limited array of notes of keys, yet this is never to the band's detriment. As for why this is so, we remain stumped. Maybe it's to do with the compelling amount of emotion which tremors throughout every single millisecond his voice still sounds. Just a few lines of "Runaway" should be enough to prove this fact. Simplicity reigns supreme during the song, with gentle horns and picked guitars adorning the backdrop. The spotlight remains of Berninger throughout, and he never betrays anything other than his absolute dedication to his task of reaching hearts and minds with his words. "What makes you think I’m enjoying being led to the flood / We got another thing comin' undone / They’ve taken us over".

Those used to the band's occasional lapses into light-hearted joviality will likely not welcome an album so dark, bleak and serious. The New Yorkers make no attempt to hide their intent to deliver their masterpiece. Just as the tragic and tremendously talented artist Nat Tate didn't desire to doodle suicidal bunnies on his work, similarly, The National keep their brows furrowed throughout. Whether it's at the expense of a more rounded and human experience, we cannot say. Although the fact that to tear down this album, we need to grasp at hypothetical straws should serve to show how close to that equally ubiquitous (and frequently misused) title of "masterpiece".

High Violet is an album that's epic, intimate, thoughtful, compelling, beautiful, intricate, intelligent and a thousand other words of praise you care to attach. In short, there is little more that we could ask from a band.

Rating:  10 / 10

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