May 5, 2010

Test Spin: The National

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Finishing several exhausting months of writing and composing from inside their Brooklyn homes, The National have gracefully and collectively produced another stellar album, High Violet. The album sees the Brooklyn-via-Cincinnati quintet harnessing their distinctive brand of tiny-town blue-collar songwriting with large-theory concepts, their earnest emotion equally encapsulating the eleven musical narratives. The duo of the Devendorf/Dessner brothers alongside front man Matt Berninger does not disappoint on the musical front as well, as their dynamic blend of guitars, bass and drums seamlessly integrating new musical expanses and orchestral flourishes with piano, strings, and brass. The combination results in a wild love child, a mix between the unrestrained energy of Alligator and the quiet contemplative ballads of Boxer, the band’s two previous masterstrokes.

High Violet is certainly a rich and more focused affair. The album as a whole is a clinic on cohesion and balance; the songs segue into one another seamlessly, with layers of atmospherics and jovial melodies helping to balance darker and more brooding anthems. The opening scuzzy guitar tone of “Terrible Love” builds quickly into a soaring crescendo and wave of cymbals and drums as Berninger emotes in his signature baritone. As with past National albums, the heartbeat of songs is the driving and fluid percussion of Bryan Devendorf. The band’s songs are constantly shifting — if the melody remains constant then surely enough the drumming and bass lines are moving in a different direction and tempo. Highlighting all these mercurial elements is “Bloodbuzz Ohio,” a song featuring Berninger singing with the utmost urgency on issues of displacement and situations and relationships falling apart as Bryan Devendorf’s drumming and the Dessner brothers’ guitar work cuts and contrasts with the warm cornets and placid piano bridge. It illustrates what is possible when a great band is syncing on all elements and executing on all parts of their craft.

Studious, nuanced, and charming High Violet cuts a wide swath across the middle-American literary portrait the band’s songs have come to embody over the years. Seductive fantasy worlds (“Lemonworld”), swirling pounding lamentations regarding daily ritual (“Conversation 16”), and majestic and expansive orchestral works (“England”) all coalesce together. Ambitious and affecting High Violet is simply spellbinding.


You can listen to the National’s High Violet on where it is currently streaming in its entirety.

Original Author: Samuel Gordon II