High Violet (4AD)
Reviewed by Doug Freeman, Fri., July 2, 2010
The NationalHigh Violet (4AD)
Marking its third stellar offering, following 2005 breakout Alligator and 2007's Boxer, the National's fifth album continues to perfect misery as an aesthetic achievement. Now a decade in, the Brooklyn brooders have come to serve as antithesis to the hipster clichés of their borough counterparts, the quintet's Midwest roots grounding songs in stoic, stark reality. High Violet's melancholy is familiar territory for the National, but they've impressively aged and settled into their gloom without becoming caricatures of angst. The major shift is that the burnt baritone of singer Matt Berninger leads the tunes less than the compositional flair of guitarists Aaron and Bryce Dessner or steady rhythms of Scott and Bryan Devendorf. "Sorrow" and "Anyone's Ghost" rise as lyrical high points, but standout tracks such as opener "Terrible Love," "Bloodbuzz Ohio," and "Conversation 16" are propelled by orchestrated nuances and subtleties that mesmerize more than Berninger's bewilderingly chanted lines ("It's a terrible love and I'm walking with spiders/I was carried to Ohio in a swarm of bees"). Though no less anthemic in its last-call loneliness, the National's sound expands with measured confidence while still nurturing bruised ethos.