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The National: High Violet
If The National’s slow, steady rise through the indie underground doesn’t disprove Neil Young’s declaration that “it’s better to burn out than to fade away” once and for all, than it should certainly prove that Matt Berninger simply needed the perspective of his 30s to reach his true songwriting potential. Like The National’s first four albums, High Violet is filled with small, first-person stories that are brought to life through grandiose orchestral pop instrumentation. As The National has found more commercial success, the band’s sound has conversely grown more somber and real—the heroic energy of 2005’s breakthrough “Mr. November” replaced by the lonely cries of High Violet’s most haunting moment, “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” (after an album of more reserved vocals, Berninger revisits his trademark controlled screams on a few tracks as well). Though Berninger initially suggested that High Violet would contain some “not-quite classic rock moments,” like 2005’s Alligator and 2007’s Boxer, the album is defined by the contrast of the lo-fi grit of the group’s early work and the high-art aspirations of twin guitarists Aaron and Bryce Dessner. Whether Berninger is being ironic, sincere or introspective, life’s many contradictions continue to define his lyrics: “When I said what I said, I didn’t mean anything,” he sings on “Conversation #16” before admitting, “everything means everything.” And, like the band’s career in general, key High Violet tracks such as “Bloodbuzz Ohio” and “Afraid of Everyone” start slow and moody, but gradually build to an explosive climax.
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