National, The – High Violet

Drinking away the pains of heartbreak and broken relationships has never sounded this satisfying before. Only the voice of Matt Berninger, embossed with conviction and driven by a panging sense of regret, could deliver images of ordinary life like “Live on coffee and flowers/ Try not to worry about what the weather will be” and imbue them with a sublime intimacy, defying the trappings that such emblems of monotonous day-to-day life place on the soul. The National have always spoken from the bench of the luck-abandoned lover/family man. However, on High Violet, the Brooklyn-based quintet is in prime form, to the point where the midlife crisis becomes almost enviable.

It’s about time The National got some acknowledgement. This anthem-pop rock n’roll group of faithfuls has been reliably flying under the radar for years. With excellent albums like Alligator and Boxer airing the grievances of middle-aged urbanites the world over (and each one superior to its predecessor), it’s a mystery why it’s taken so long. Considering influences like U2 and Joy Division, it’s not as if their roots are too abstruse either. The Dessner brothers even co-produced Dark Was the Night, the charity event featuring the best and brightest of the indie music community. It’s not as if they haven’t been pulling their own weight alongside that of the world.  Of course, now that Rolling Stones is finally aware of them, the rest of the now ‘enlightened’ planet is sure to follow. Hell, I saw a copy of High Violet at Target the other day; when it comes to indie rock, it don’t get much more ubiquitous than that.

Though some may call them another one of “those Brooklyn indie bands,” The National are unparalleled in their ability to voice the anxieties of the middle-aged New Yorker. Few other frontmen out there play the role quite as well as Berninger: wrinkled suit, hair unkempt, the workings of a rough beard, he carries a world-weary expression upon his face like a birthmark. His powerful baritone is broken only from within, by his own frail inflections around his sorest of confessions. Aaron and Bryce Dessner may provide the band’s instrumental strength (right down to the bassoon), but Berninger provides the soul that makes the whole presentation worthwhile.

In the most loving way possible, High Violet sounds like the type of record that, at times, would provide the emotional backbone for the emotional catharsis of a Hollywood movie and at others the token “sad part” on an episode of Scrubs. Those fearful of feeling a little sad should stick to their copies of Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, especially when tracks like the Wilco-esque confessional “Runaway” kick in; the domineering sense of regret here is as turgid as the Hudson River. And when tracks like the timpani-laden epic “England” march inside your headphones, recalling the bombast of a blockbuster romance, it’s hard not to envision High Violet as a personal soundtrack for your own life. It’s a sublime sort of miserable, one that penetrates to your core like the wet chill of a shadowy cave, yet through the darkness you’re left staring wide-eyed into the light at the end, stunned speechless by the sheer immensity of it all.

by Mason “loves him dat bassoon” McGough

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1 Comment

  1. New Review! The National – High Violet « Avery Island: Musical Opinions From Music Geeks said,

    […] The National – High Violet, by Mason McGough […]

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