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Like most music I find myself listening to, I became aware of the National by listening to a song of theirs and then typing in the lyrics into a search engine to discover the band itself. Its an unusual but perfected method of mine for finding new artists and their music. So, with that in mind, a year or two ago I discovered the National through the song 'Bloodbuzz Ohio' which coincidentally is in the album High Violet which I am reviewing, and so searching actually led me straight to the album. I was impressed and pleasantly surprised by the lead singer Matt Berninger's baritone and soothing voice which bellowed out in a way that perfectly contrasted and complimented the accompanying music. It intrigued me to want to listen to more of the band's music and as such I popped out and purchased this album.
High Violet contains 11 tracks and various special additions sometimes also include around two bouns tracks. It was released in 2010 around the time the lead singer first had a child and as such many of the songs feature themes surrounding this, such as his fear at being a dad and worry that he'd be a failure (seen in the song Afraid of Everyone).
Here is a track by track review of each song in numerical order:
1. "Terrible Love" - The song begins somewhat upbeat and is a nice introduction to the band. The words as is often the case, are much more sad in tone compared to the music itself. I think this track makes a pretty decent open to the album and really sets up the rest of the music. You are immediately faced with Berninger's drawled out speech and sloppy pronunciation that he sometimes like to employ and it really compliments the hastiness of the music. I really recommend the live version of the song where in my opinion, the lyrics are sung in a much more emotional way and the music feels much more dynamic and great to listen to, especially as you can really see how important the meaning behind the song really is to all of the band members.
2. "Sorrow" - Immediately the pace and tone slows and the next song is much more melancholy. The lyrics too are very poignant and somewhat confusing in my opinion (which strangely makes me more fascinated by the band as it allows you to interpret them however you want). Further, the female backing voice again compliments Berninger's voice perfectly, as does the slowly increasing in tension guitar playing which builds throughout. This is perhaps one of my favourite songs of the album, and makes for a wonderful break up song, that combines the right mix of emotion and inspiration.
3. "Anyone's Ghost" - A slightly haunting piece that is quite different to the first two tracks. It is quick to begin and again the combination of Berninger's voice with the softer female voice is perfect in the chorus. As always, the song is full of variety and yet it all blends together effortlessly.
4. "Little Faith" - A song that at first I was a little indifferent to really. It takes a while to really hook you but once it does you appreciate how captivating, atmospheric, and remarkably composed it is.
5. "Afraid of Everyone" - A single track from the album that begins in a sort of haunting ghostly way and slowly builds up to a very dynamic powerful chorus. The influx of instruments that slowly build really heightens your senses and in a way sort of keeps you on your toes. The lyrics are very interesting and really give you insight into the thoughts of the lead singer and are touching in a weird way. My favourite part is the strong and rhythmic drum beat which really is the core of the main part of the song. The song is somewhat experimental and there's a lot going on, but if you really listen to it, it really is an excellent song.
6. "Bloodbuzz Ohio" - The song that introduced me to this band does not let down. In a way I am kind of disappointed as not having ever heard other songs of theirs it meant that their other music was completely alien to me and in a way I could invent it myself to suit Berninger's wonderful baritone voice. However having said that, that doesn't belittle the rest of the music, and the album beautifully compliments the song. I'm very glad it is positioned smack bang in the middle of the album as it means that you are built up consistently to a crescendo without being overwhelmed.
7. "Lemon World" - A pretty good song but not one of my favourites. I personally prefer his voice in this song than any actual music and was a little let down following on from track 6.
8. "Runaway" - A slow paced song that really presents the main singer and allows you to really appreciate both band and singer. A very calming and almost child-like sounding song.
9. "Conversation 16" - The pace and tone of this song immediately changes from its predecessor with the haunting undertones of "Afraid of Everyone" but with a more powerful drum beat and bizzaar lyrics such as "I was afraid I'd eat your brains...'cause I'm evil". But it really compliments the song and sounds much better than it reads!
10. "Conversation 16" - A soothing song that has almost poetic sounding lyrics and slow violin and piano accompaniment. A wholesome song, but not one of my favourites.
11. "Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks" - A really enjoyable end to the album. A very slow, comprehensive finale that is pretty different to all of the other tracks. Again, in my opinion, I prefer to listen to it sung live as it is much more emotive and I don't feel that the studio version really encapsulates this, however still a good track.
A very good album that shows that the National have more and more to give having been around for 13 years now. They remain innovative and yet still familiar. I recommend this album to fans of indie (although I must stress, this is what genre the band is defined as, but to me it is starkly different from other indie bands...much better in all honesty). On the face of it the album isn't necessarily exceptional, but if it deserves a listen to, and maybe even a re-listen as for me it gets better with time. You only really appreciate how comprehensive and developed it is then, and you then also fall in love with the music hopefully too! I would definitely recommend.
The National are from Ohio, USA and they make beautiful and haunting sounding alternative rock music.
High Violet is the Nationals 5th album (Their previous albums: The National, Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers, Alligator, Boxer), it was released in May 2010 and has 11 tracks as listed below.
Afraid of Everyone
Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks
It's difficult to compare The National to other bands because they're similar to lots but very unique at the same time.
They'd probably appeal to people who like Radiohead, Tom Waits, Fleet Foxes, Interpol, Arcade Fire and Bon Iver to name a few.
If you like Black Lace or Jay Z however then you may not like The National...it's not a science fact but it's probably a fairly accurate statement.
My favourite songs from High Violet are:
-- Afraid of Everyone --
This song is very mellow as all the Nationals songs are but I really love the guitar work, the little hammer on's and off's over the chorus. Towards the end of the track
the drumming really kicks in and the layers are added to lift everything to a wild atmospheric frenzy.
-- Bloodbuzz Ohio --
This song is really singalongy and has a good consistent drum beat that is uplifting (I find The National uplifting at times but others do not). It seems to be one of their biggest songs but lyrically they have better ones and I think musically they do too.
It's definitely a good place to start listening to them though as it's catchy and it gets into your head easy. You could call it their signature song.
-- Runaway --
"There's no saving anything, now we're swallowing the shine of the sun" - The song starts with those lyrics, they create a strong image of the final moments of something and the rest of the lyrics of the song
seem to point towards the apocalypse. The song used to be called "Karamazo" named after the book The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky but I'm not entirely sure if the lyrics relate to the book as I have not read it...yet
-- Conversation 16 --
After a few listens to this song you will definitely be singing "I was afraid I'd eat your brains". It's a sad song but one that makes me laugh from the images it creates of a person turning into a zombie, metaphorically naturally!
Everything about this song I just love, the movements within the song tie together so nicely, they go from powerful to peaceful and then they just drop off to a calm before the chorus (that is the storm) kicks back in again.
To end, I'd just like to say that if I wasn't being picky I would say that the entire album is full of equally brilliant songs, just some stick to me more than others but at the same time this is an album where I don't skip a single song because I love them all.
It's easily in my top 10 albums of all time. It is defintely an album that I have a lot of memories attached to it and I think that if an album can do that for you that that is a sign of a great album.
I urge you to check it out.
this name will explode this summer. I bought this album instantly when I heard it was being released. If anyone hasn't heard Bloodbuzz Ohio, do it now. It is the most beautiful, upbeat and atmospheric songs you will hear in 2010. I have listened to this album in full when they showed it on the New York times, and it didn't fail to impress.
If you are fan of The Temper Trap or Bloc Party, I recommend it. It is lyrically stunning, musically dazzling and pleasantly repetitive. The vocals are very recognizable with a sort of low tone, and the band plays a guitar and piano combo which will send you into a daydream of memorising sound.
All in all, this has been very anticipated with "Bloodbuzz Ohio" standing out of the crowed featuring as Radio 1's song of the week. The album will not fail to impress, and if these are not hyped this summer, surely by the end of 2010. I will be upset if Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber are the sound of the summer over these. Bring on Monday (if Royal Mail do their jobs, *waves fist*)
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Terrible Love
3 Anyone's Ghost
4 Little Faith
5 Afraid Of Everyone
6 Bloodbuzz Ohio
9 Conversation 16
11 Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks