Friday, December 17, 2010

The National - High Violet

Go to and read the reast of the top 20 list.

The National reportedly intended to make an optimistic, catchy record as their follow-up to Boxer. Instead, this year's High Violet was every bit as dark as its predecessor. It also ended up every bit as good; indeed, one is hard-pressed to identify the album's premier song because almost all of them are just that damn great. The record arrived with much anticipation and eventually garnered the type of mainstream attention that snags a couple of indie acts each year, yet somehow the band managed to exceed these lofty expectations. We might end up looking back at 2010 as the year we began to take it for granted that every new National album would be as remarkable as the one that came right before it.

Everything about High Violet - from Matt Berninger's suffering-voiced baritone to the band's carefully crafted arrangements - reveals a gravity and seriousness that would make lesser bands sound completely overblown. Moments of black humor notwithstanding, the album is exceptionally and plainly sad, whether it's in the distance felt in songs like "Sorrow" and "London," in images such as "Manhattan valleys of the dead" or in mysterious, ambiguous lyrics like "it takes an ocean not to break." There are few comforts throughout - maybe a little consolation can be found in the comforts of family and on the hints of devotion in closer "Vanderlye Crybaby Geeks" - but Berninger's lyrics mostly center around mental and personal issues exacerbated by lousy trips back home and a lack of drugs to "sort it out."

The album might not receive highest placement on many year-end best-of lists - that honor seems likely to go to a handful of righteously seething New Jersey rockers, a certain Canadian band with a knack for grandiose statements about The State of Man or an ego-centric rapper who lived up to his self-generated hype - but High Violet, like most of the National's output, might age better than any of them. It takes no small amount of guts and skill to make an album so disarmingly honest; the National have plenty of both, delivering yet another album whose timelessness already seems assured.

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