The National: “High Violet” – Music Review
By Chris Kromphardt
Staff Writer, Justice Administrator
The National have come to be known for a few stable tendencies, besides being otherwise unclassifiable genre-wise. Bryan Devendorf’s sterling, versatile percussion, Matt Berninger’s sad-sack baritone musings, and a fantastic clash of wills among the band members recently documented by the New York Times Magazine have defined album after album of melancholy yet inspiring songs. High Violet is their fifth.
Devendorf’s drumming is a force of nature all its own. The sign of a good drummer can be when you actually notice the drumming, but it’s not overpowering everyone else in the band. While Devendorf’s cadence is prominent in the songs “Terrible Love” and “Lemonworld”, you most appreciate his contribution for the seamlessness with which he backs his bandmates while being distinct all his own.
Berninger is one of the most unique frontmen in music today for two reasons: his seemingly inexhaustible capacity to express the terrible beauty in the minutiae of a quarter-life crisis—“I still owe money to the money to the money I owe”; and his smokey baritone that’s deeper than the despair to which he’s giving voice. The first thing you notice when you listen to The National for the first time—lucky you—is likely to be Berninger’s voice; however its seeming limitations in range are forgotten when you realize the aural depth and complexity that is his bandmates weaving their instrumentations among his singing with such graceful ease.
The above NYTimes piece describes the tension that goes into The National’s creative process, which you can get a slight glimpse of in some of their songs. “Afraid Of Everyone” is a prime example. The guitars snarl at each other, the string accompaniment swells, the percussion thumps like a heartbeat—and then it all stops. The band’s collective dissonance coalesces into something tragically gorgeous, and then it’s gone.
High Violet is a little slow toward the end, and the lead single “Bloodbuzz Ohio” sounds like a recycled B-side from earlier albums, but High Violet is right up there with the band’s Boxer (2007) and Alligator (2005).