The National: High Anxiety
The results of the push-and-pull that make up High Violet take longer to reveal themselves than on the previous two records. The bombast is tempered (“Conversation 16,” “Bloodbuzz Ohio”) while the ethereality is turned up courtesy of composed string and horn sections (“Little Faith,” “Runaway”) along with angelic backing vocals (“Sorrow,” “Afraid of Everyone”).
The Dessners’ meticulous, interwoven guitars and Bryan’s polyrhythmic drumming still provide the foundation while Scott’s bass seems to slipstream behind singer’s vocals more than ever. The songs are nuanced—if you don’t listen to them loud or with headphones, you’ll likely miss much of their detail. One song, “You Were a Kindness,” from the sessions remains unreleased (“Sin-Eaters” and “Walk Off” appear as B-Sides).
Berninger’s lyrics have changed their tone as well. While the hallmarks of his writing, like insect references, are still there—“I was carried to Ohio in a swarm of bees” or “It’s a terrible love and I’m walking with spiders”—the songs’ narrator seems to be coping with his failures and loss, appreciative to have had something to lose in the first place.
“The bitterness of a relationship song like ‘Available’—I don’t think I’ll ever feel that bitter again,” says Berninger of the Sad Songs composition. “I’m not going to write a tough, mean song because I know people love those kinds of songs. I could never do that. I have to write about things that are true, at least on an emotional level, and that’s why I think being married and having a kid has made my emotional core completely different.
“I don’t care as much about being a glowing young ruffian or single bachelor Casanova,” he continues, referencing Alligator’s “Racing Like a Pro.” “All that stuff, it’s no longer something that has any weight to it—in my soul, head or anything—because I’m right where I want to be.”
As Berninger walks up Avenue of the Americas after leaving the bar, Radio City’s marquee comes into view. The band’s name has already been removed, supplanted by New Kids on The Block and Widespread Panic.
Just last night he was playing to 6,000 people there, climbing across one end of the first balcony to the other as he sang “Mr. November” toward the end of the show. “It’s like, ‘OK, the show’s almost over, we’ve survived another one’ and that feels good,” he says of his forays into the audience. “There’s a big desire—a physical need—to get in there with the people you’ve been standing in front of for an hour and a half.”
Not that the show was flawless for him. A third of the way through, he repeated the same line twice during “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks.” Berninger thinks he likely lost concentration by looking at the crowd too much—perhaps questioning why a few people were sitting down in the front.
“If you come to enough shows, you’ll see us have these minor meltdowns,” he says. “They’re quiet meltdowns, they’re all internal mostly, but you can see it. The tension is palpable.” Whereas a few years ago the anxiety of such a moment might have ruined a performance for Berninger, he can now handle the turbulence.
“It’s still excruciating when you’re in that moment, but at least I’ve been able to put my head on the other side and say, ‘You’ll get past this,’” he says. “‘Maybe you can pull it together on the next song or the one after that.’”
In honor of Umphrey’s McGee’s return to Summer Camp this weekend, we present the group’s Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger performing this version of “The Pequod” from UM’s Anchor Drops.
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Here is the new video from Serbian guitar ace Ana Popovic. “Object Of Obsession” appears on her latest album Can You Stand The Heat.
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