The National – High Violet (2010)

27 May

[Album: High Violet]
[Label: 4AD / 2010]
[Rating: 5.7]

The streets are starting to die down, the office rush has calmed. Everyone is inside, hiding from the rain, trying to convince themselves that work didn’t take that much out of them – and that tonight they can go out. The puddles on the street act as mirrors reflecting the orange and white glow of the theater lights above. The breaks in the cobblestone road act as miniature canals for the water to flow through. The rain has stopped, for now, but the air holds the smell of dampness – signaling the possibility it could start up again at a moments notice. If the skies don’t open, the streets will begin to buzz once again, holding the hand of those with enough left in their tired soles to tread to their destination, guiding them to wherever they need to go. For many, that destination is the theater, the same theater with the orange glow, the same theater that opens a new play tonight. This means it is time to throw on some proper clothes, some proper shoes, some proper fragrance – trying to embody the redolent scent of high society and the image that that society presents. Even if you don’t belong. The play is focused on real human emotion, real everyday life – real tragedy and loss, real love and hate. High Violet offers the soundtrack, a damp and weary outlook, a tiny glimpse of hope, and a lot of wearisome banter on the hopelessness of life (cheer up boys).

In the past The National have created songs that would often creep up on you. They didn’t have to throw up big signs to let you know the structure was changing, or that there were horns now triumphantly blasting in the background. Their composition allowed them to do this, their beautifully layered instrumentals were able to present something really special without being really flashy.

On High Violet their songs seem to just drift along, however, no creeping, no alarms, no surprises. They become songs with no flash and no merit. To be blunt – they’re boring. There are a few exceptions on the album – Afraid of Everyone and Bloodbuzz Ohio are both extremely well built songs with some great lyrics accompanying; which highlights everything that makes The National such a remarkable band. But in general the album never really wants to go anywhere, the changes in songs are often so subtle they are easy to overlook – and in the end, easy to forget.

Terrible Love is the albums opener, offering a glimpse of hope throughout. It embraces the bands ability to layer together so well. However, the song never really opens up, and it eventually only offers an eccentric drum riff and a guitar that’s too loud. The next two songs Sorrow and Anyone’s Ghost seem to follow suit, producing monotonous songs that provide no hooks, melodies, or anything to look forward to.

Little Faith supplies the first beacon of hope on the album, producing a beautiful atmospheric chantey with some equally beautiful lyrics focused on wasted purpose – the problem is it takes about 3 uneventful minutes to get to somewhere exciting.

Afraid of Everyone seems to kick the album into a more noteworthy gear. Easily being the most memorable song on the album, it slowly builds from a swooning confession of survival into a fervent revelation. It is The National proving their magnificence – creating a meaningful ballad from the ground up with slowly building drums, choral chanting, and timidly placed guitar riffs. Bloodbuzz Ohio follows, a song that is also a solid addition to the bands repertoire of significant songs.

But then the magic is lost, and Lemonworld directs the album back into down tempo repetitive humdrum rock. It’s not a bad song; but it’s just not good. Runaway seems to be assembling itself into a beautiful anthem, but its charm is lost after hearing five minutes of the same thing. The whole back end of the album seems to follow in this way, disappointing time after time with songs that go nowhere, and do nothing. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes a slow simple song can work wonders (Bowie’s Life On Mars, Keane’s Hamburg Song), but The National fall short and just manage to be unexciting and colorless.

The play is over, the rain is pouring, and your wondering what to take out of the experience. High Violet goes nowhere, stretches nothing, and snails along. Which is really disappointing because some of the songs, like Bloodbuzz, prove that The National are capable of creating great music while not having the drastically alter their sound. In the end, however, most fall attempts short and leave you frustrated over the lack of any progression.

-Dave, May 27, 2010

The National – Bloodbuzz Ohio:

The National – Afraid of Everyone:

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