Brooklyn-based Cincinnati natives the National follow their sophomore effort, Boxer, with an album that chronicles the dream sequences of a man caught at the fringes of love, and, plays on the band’s strengths: Matt Berminger’s disaffected baritone and cryptic lyrics, and cinematic landscapes that build tension until you’re positive the speakers are going to blow, then quickly retreat into the shadowy melodies.
The opening track “Terrible Love” frets that falling in love might be hazardous, a feeling Berminger compares to “walking with spiders.” Brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessener paint a soft wall of sound to lull the listener. The rest of the album follows with a collision of beautiful textures and bittersweet lyrics. Single “Bloodbuzz Ohio,” performed recently on David Letterman’s Late Show, creates a post-new-wave sound almost reminiscent of Richard Hawley, former Pulp guitar technician and songwriter. In comparison to the more aggressive sounding Boxer, High Violet marks a return to the quiet subtleties revealed on debut Alligator. “Conversation 16” is destined for repeat, wrapping up the listener in an ephemeral warmth, like the transient effects of light on the water. Each song builds to a crescendo showcasing piano and string arrangements more mature than those of bands such as Grizzly Bear and the Editors, while retaining the same edgy sexiness that the National have exuded for more than a decade. — Destinee Flores