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High Violet (Expanded Edition)

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Album Review

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 High Violet's second-half supremacy, but even they tremble beneath the "Bloodbuzz" intoxication. Muscular, miserable, mighty, and meandering, High Violet swings for the fences, but only hits it half the time. [The expanded edition of High Violet includes a bonus disc with an alternate version of "Terrible Love," three live tracks, and four previously unreleased cuts.]

Customer Reviews

A National Treasure

Another solid album put forth by this Brooklyn band. Their whole body of work is consistent. I first started listening to The National after previewing Alligator in a now extinct music store. I decided to buy it but then gave it a few listens and put it aside. A year later I decided to give it another listen and the melodies and lyrics really resonated with me. The National is definitely the Smells Like Teen Spirit for the middle aged. It deals with growing older and being despondent with where life has led you. All the dreams of youth are shattered but there is some respite from the mundane and some hope. Upon first listen to High Violet I thought it was consistent with their previous efforts but perhaps not as memorable as Alligator or Boxer. However, upon more listens it is definitely on par with those albums. If you are thinking of purchasing High Violet then I suggest spending the extra couple bucks for the expanded edition (You Were A Kindness is the gem of the expanded portion) and for the other $1 the rest are worth it. The standouts on this album are Bloodbuzz Ohio, Lemonworld, Conversation 16, England and Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks. I'm never afraid to recommend The National to anyone. They transcend genres. Friends that like folk, country, rock, blues and alternative have all said it is one of the best recommendations they've had.

Do yourself a favour

Amazing, amazing, amazing album!!!

Flawless, Worth it for Expanded Ed.

This album is absolutely perfect from top to bottom, along with the extra tracks on this version, definitely worth the extra bucks. Matt Berninger's voice will never cease to amaze me. Buy it. Don't ask questions. Just buy it.


Formed: 1999 in Brooklyn, NY

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '00s, '10s

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, indie rock, and Brit-pop. 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 (bass) and Bryan Devendorf (drums), and Aaron (guitar) and Bryce Dessner (guitar). After establishing themselves as a live act, the bandmates made...
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