Album Review: The National – High Violet

“High Violet” by The National

High Violet (2010)

A lot of bands try to ‘reinvent’ themselves. They try to prove that they shouldn’t be pigeon-holed as the type of band that only does one type of music. They seem eager to prove that they have grown as artists/people. They want to ‘push the envelope’. Really seems like this is hard to do effectively without confusing your original fan base (see MGMT). A lot of times these drastic changes to prove the critics wrong come off as more desperate than anything. It’s comforting to know that we will never have to worry about any of this with ‘The National’.

The National are as consistent as a band gets. They basically have one ‘sound’ and have stuck with it for a decade. This is no easy task either. It’s probably pretty hard to continue making one type of music without coming off as dated. Somehow “The National” avoid straying from their original sound without sounding boring.

“High Violet” gives us everything we have come to love and respect about The National. One of these things is deep, heavy, baritone lyrics about serious ‘grown-up’ problems. The National have never exactly been uplifting. In fact they consistently make some of the most depressing music out there. However, this isn’t whiny, teen-angst, ’emo’ depression. This is the type of depression you only feel while knocking back your 5th whiskey on the rocks in some dive bar, after working the same shitty job for 10 years. All in all it’s a very blue-collar depression. “I owe money to the money to the money I owe”, part of the epic chorus in “Bloodbuzz Ohio”, really captures the essence of The National. The incredible pressure of mounting debts expressed with the sort of indifference or detachment you only get after being thoroughly trashed.

Drinkin' their worries away.

The National may have not changed their subject matter or general sound much in “High Violet” but they definitely have stepped up their game. These are ‘grown-ass men’ and they sound like it. The whole album just sounds incredibly well put together. The National are the indie rock equivalent to a Parisian baker who has been making the same baguette for the last 30 years: you know you are going to get a really damn good product from these guys because they have been fine tuning their craft for so long. The production value of “High Violet” is off the charts and every song seems to be a bigger production than the last. Overall, the album has a much ‘fuller’ sound than any of their previous works.

The band’s last album: “Boxer” probably offered a little more hope or a hint of optimism in every song. This sense that ‘everything is gonna be alright’ is all but gone in “High Violet”. The closest substitute is a sense of nostalgia about better times years ago. Not sure how a band that is so depressing can feel so comforting, but somehow The National is just that. Maybe it’s just comforting to hear Matt Berringer’s deep soulful voice let you know that he has been their before and that you are not alone.

Blood Buzz Ohio
England (LIVE)

High Violet: 4.5 out of 5

When bands just repeat the same sound do they risk becoming “Green Day”?
What do you think the likelihood is that ‘Dewers’ sponsors The National’s next tour?
Does “High Violet” unintentionally promote alcoholism?
What is the difference between blue-collar and white-collar depression?
Is it worse to be stagnant or overly ambitious, creatively speaking?


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