Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Review: The National - High Violet

Upon my first listen, I was slightly skeptic. The lyrics of the opening track "Terrible Love" were a little bizarre: "It's a terrible love and I'm walking with spiders." Little did I know, this album grew on me like a plant in the summertime. Each track holds its own brilliance, and yet, I think it's pivotal to listen to this album as a whole and not just your favorite songs. Matt Berninger's deep baritone voice is simply beautiful as he sings such honest lyrics, "I'm afraid of everyone, I'm afraid of everyone. With my kid on my shoulders, I try not to hurt anybody I like. But I don't have the drugs to sort, I don't have the drugs to sort it out, sort it out" (Afraid of Everyone). Berninger claims he is a "confident liar" in the song "Coversation 16", but it seems to me like his lyrics couldn't be more truthful. 

As the album progresses, you start to hear each piece come together to make up a whole beautiful work of art. Like a puzzle, it's essential to hear each piece so that when put together, you have a prize outcome. The tracks "Sorrow" and "Anyone's Ghost" are haunting and leave the listener in suspense, waiting to hear what other good vibes the album has to offer. Though somewhat self destructive at times, Berninger's lyrics maintain a sense of self evaluation, but he doesn't always describe that sense in an obvious tone. By use of imagery and metaphors, he weaves a spiderweb of analytical self image and dark (and sometimes unlikely) fears. "I was afraid I'd eat your brains, 'cause I'm evil" (Conversation 16). He is reiterating the word "afraid"; fear appears to be a theme throughout this album. 

The first 5 tracks off the LP High Violet seem to build up to the gem "Bloodbuzz Ohio", which was also made into a well-done music video. Once you get to this part of the album, you experience such a subtle intensity that it immediately draws you in. If you thought the first 5 tracks were great, then you will be blown away by these next few masterpieces. "Lemonworld", a dark yet catchy tune, admits Berninger's painful truth, "You and your sister live in a Lemonworld. I wanna sit in and die." Although these words are depressing, the song itself is so upbeat that it's almost uplifting. The thing about The National is that Berninger can come up with some of the most clever but strangest lyrics, and they still have a significant effect because of his sincere baritone voice. Many National fans have commented on some of the mind-boggling lyrics of his, such as the ones from "Conversation 16" (as mentioned earlier), but many agree that if sung by anybody else it would just sound ridiculous. 

If High Violet doesn't sink in on your first listen, give it a few more spins and I can guarantee that you will witness the dark beauty it so flawlessly captures. This is one of the few masterpieces released this year, and I highly recommend checking it out. It never gets old; it's one of those albums that has so much it reveals that it remains timeless. Like an onion, it has numerous layers and each time you listen you get through a different layer. Once you get to the very core of its meaning, you can't turn back. You're sucked into a world of irrational fears, dark imagery, and honest truths, and yet, the music accompanies these sad and painful themes and turns them into something remarkable and gorgeous.