Album review: The National's 'High Violet'
With 2007’s “Boxer,” the two sets of brothers and unrelated lead vocalist Matthew Berninger cemented a niche appeal similar to that of Wilco, the Chicago heroes of emotionally weighty songs. But where Wilco is ragged, the National is ruffled and tufted, sometimes embracing pomp and circumstance, sometimes turning its back on it cold.
One of the most stunning pieces on “High Violet” is “England,” which opens with steadily mounting orchestration -- rippling piano chords, the low thunder of drums, some pining strings and lofty horns. At its blustery peak, it threatens to topple from its own melodrama. The pleasure is in listening to how often the National scrapes up close to maudlin, only to retreat in the nick of time.
For all the depression, these guys certainly have the energy to work themselves into a frenzy. If Berninger’s voice has found 100 shades of morose, Bryan Devendorf counteracts it with his own language of ticking, dancing, approach-from-all-sides drumming.
When Berninger sings, “sorrow found me when I was young / sorrow waited, sorrow won… it’s in my honey, it’s in my milk,” it rings out like band philosophy. To drink in sadness is just natural for some. Leave happiness to the lazy pop stars.
-- Margaret Wappler
Three and a half stars (out of four)
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