This is the band’s fifth studio album and their third successive critical success (following The Boxer and Alligator), yet The National remain relatively unknown here in the UK. If you haven’t heard them yet, I heartily recommend a listen.
The deep baritone vocals of lead singer Mat Berninger are set in dense, brooding soundscapes; driving, syncopated, rhythms; buzzing, soaring, intricate rock guitars; wonderful orchestrations and instrumental flourishes.
And then there are the songs. 21st century tales of love and life told in strange, elliptical snapshots – I was carried to Ohio in a swarm of bees. Whole lives captured in single lines – We don’t bleed when we don’t fight. Bits of lyrics that pick away at your brain – I’m on a blood buzz, yes I am. This is thoughtful, thought-provoking rock music.
There has been criticism that High Violet lacks some of the edginess of previous albums. Whilst there’s nothing as manic here as Abel or Mr November, it’s not edge that’s missing but release. The sense of danger is still there, but this time round it is left simmering; bubbling away but never boiling over, it’s perhaps more menacing as a result.
Proof that this restraint has been applied in the service of the record can be seen, and felt, at the live shows. Here, the new songs seamlessly take their place next to their better known predecessors. Everything still buzzes and crackles as Mat stalks the stage like a man on the brink, screaming into the gods and lurching out into the crowd as if in search of others to share and soothe his fears.
The National’s records are superb examples of modern alt.rock music; full of angst, brains and humour. And live they are just thrilling. One of the best bands in the world right now.