Thursday, June 17, 2010

I was carried to Ohio in a swarm of bees

I meant to review this album weeks ago . . .

High Violet by The National

Everyone knows that The National's previous album, Boxer, is one of the best albums of the last several years, so High Violet arrives with a heavy burden. And while the new album does not quite equal its predecessor, the album provides an excellent and melancholy listening experience. I have always loved lead singer Matt Berninger's low and somber voice, and he uses it to good measure here on this collection of sad and pensive songs. And while I do not always understand all of The National's lyrics, I am always intrigued by their wordsmithery.

I like all of the songs, but here are the highlights:

I initially fell in love with album opener "Terrible Love" when the band released a series of live(ish) videos filmed in some kind of castle. The imagery for this video really moved me, and as I listened to the song more and more, I became enamored with the guitar work and the slow and steady drums, slowly but surely building. "Terrible Love" opens the album in a sadly beautiful way. "It takes an ocean not to break."

"Sorrow," as evidenced by its title, keeps the melancholy coming, and the choir and piano combo in the second half of the song underscore the song's themes quite well. The next song, "Anyone's Ghost" pairs well with "Sorrow," and we begin to wonder what is bothering these guys.

"Lemonworld" represents one of those songs, like "Apartment Story" from Boxer, in which the lyrics combine the mundane and the transcendent. Berninger sings about the Army and bathing suits, and words like "Lay me on the table, put flowers in my mouth, and we can say that we invented a summer lovin' torture party." With the odd chorus, the "do-do-do-do" repetition, this song confuses and delights me.

"Runaway" = gorgeous. The acoustic guitar and subtle drum form a sparse and lovely backdrop that adds layers as it goes, culminating in some ethereal horns. But Berninger's voice here really stands out, and the lyrics shine with sober glory. "I'll go braving everything, with you swallowing the shine of the sun."

"Conversation 16" stands out because of its low strings, its drums, and its lyrics: "I was afraid I'd eat your brains, 'cause I'm evil." That's all I have to say about that. A very good song.

"England" sounds like I want my National songs to sound: lush instrumentation, great drums, interesting melodies.

But the absolute centerpiece of the album for me is "Bloodbuzz Ohio." This song rivals any song in the band's collection, and I have listened to it multiple times every day since I got the album several weeks ago. Everything about this song works for me, from the drum and piano line to the economic downturn-inspired lyrics. And the line "I was carried to Ohio in a swarm of bees" may turn out to be the best single line of the year. The new video for "Bloodbuzz Ohio" showcases Berninger's strange lounge singer swagger:

This song is a wonder. Have a free mp3 of it, won't you?

High Violet does not disappoint. Though the music is a bit more suited to fall than summer, sometimes even in the oppressive heat of summer, we need to just let the sounds wash over us.


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