released May 11th, 2010
from the album - Bloodbuzz Ohio
from all music
Although formed during the post-punk revival of the late '90s, the National took inspiration from a wider set of influences, including country-rock, Americana, and Britpop. The lineup began taking shape in Ohio and officially cemented itself in New York, with baritone vocalist Matt Berninger joining forces with two sets of brothers -- Scott (guitar) and Bryan Devendorf (drums), and Aaron (bass) and Bryce Dessner (guitar). After establishing themselves as a live act, the bandmates made their studio debut with The National, a self-titled record that appeared in 2001 to considerable acclaim. Two years later, the band returned with Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers, a deft blending of alternative country and chamber pop that found the band partnering with producer Peter Katis.
The National continued working with Katis throughout the rest of the decade. Following the release of an EP, Cherry Tree, in 2004, the band signed with Beggars Banquet and released Alligator. Although sales were modest, Alligator proved to be one of the year's most critically-approved releases. 2007's Boxer, an ambitious effort that featured orchestration by the Clogs' Padma Newsome and piano by Sufjan Stevens, fared similarly well. It also became the band's first album to chart fairly well, peaking at number 67 on the Billboard 200.
A documentary by French filmmaker Vincent Moon was released in 2008, capturing the band during the Boxer recording sessions. That same year, the National released The Virginia EP, a collection of new material and various B-sides, and began working on a new studio album with Katis. High Violet appeared two years later.
The National have worn a lot of hats since their 2001 debut, but they’ve never been able to shake the rural, book-smart, quiet violence of the Midwest. The Brooklyn-groomed, Ohio-bred indie rock quintet’s fifth full-length album navigates that lonely dirt road where swagger meets desperation like a seasoned tour guide, and while it may take a few songs to get going, there are treasures to be found for patient passengers. The National's profile rose considerably after 2007’s critically acclaimed The Boxer, and they have used that capital to craft a flawed gem of a record that highlights their strengths and weaknesses with copious amounts of red ink. High Violet oozes atmosphere, but moves at a snail’s pace. The Cousteau-esque “Terrible Love” hardly bursts out of the gate, and the subsequent “Sorrow” and “Anyone’s Ghost” (despite Bryan Devendorf’s locomotive drumming) lack the hooks to reel anybody in on first listen. The album begins to take shape on “Afraid of Everyone,” a slow-build midtempo rocker that expertly utilizes the Clogs’ (guitarist Bryce Dessner's other chamber pop band) prickly orchestrations, but it’s the punishing “Bloodbuzz Ohio” that serves as High Violet's centerpiece. Built on a foundation that fuses together TV on the Radio's “Halfway Home” and Arcade Fire's “No Cars Go,” its refrain of “I still owe money to the money, to the money I owe” seems both relevant and nostalgic, resulting in a highway anthem that feels like the anti-“Born to Run.” Other standout cuts like “Conversation 16,” “England," and the darkly funny/oddly beautiful closer, “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks,” trumpet Violet’s second-half supremacy, but even they tremble beneath the "Bloodbuzz" intoxication. Muscular, miserable, mighty, and meandering, High Violet aims for the seats, but only hits about half of them.
1 Terrible Love Berninger, Dessner 4:39
2 Sorrow Berninger, Dessner 3:25
3 Anyone's Ghost Berninger, Dessner 2:54
4 Little Faith Berninger, Besser, Dessner 4:36
5 Afraid of Everyone Berninger, Dessner 4:19
6 Bloodbuzz Ohio Berninger, Dessner, Newsome 4:35
7 Lemonworld Berninger, Dessner 3:23
8 Runaway Berninger, Dessner 5:33
9 Conversation 16 Berninger, Besser, Dessner 4:18
10 England Berninger, Dessner 5:40
11 Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks Berninger, Besser, Dessner 4:12