With 2007's 'Boxer', The National drummed up endless praise from critics and a warm reception from the public, but somehow managed to avoid the overkill so often experienced with such levels of hype. With its follow up, their fifth album overall, the Brooklyn-based indie rockers have truly outdone themselves.
It's clear from the get go that 'High Violet' is an album more preoccupied with atmosphere than melody. Opener 'Terrible Love' is slow to get going, taking its time to build layers of echoing piano, ambient strings and distorted drums upon repeating vocals and electric guitars before breaking into a cacophonous wall of sound climax. When atmosphere is so adeptly crafted, who cares if the tune is secondary?
The mix is beautiful, everything in its place, another tiny detail audible with each listen. And it's the details that make all the difference. Strictly speaking superfluous to the melody, the alternating snare and tom-tom drums of 'Sorrow', the clattering rhythms between each line of 'Little Faith', the squiggling guitar and eerie oohs of 'Afraid of Everyone' and the patriotic horns of 'England' are just some of the extra elements that bring these songs to the next level.
And, secondary though they may be, the tunes aren't half bad either. Matt Berninger's deep vocals are as rich and warm as ever, purveying a wealth of emotion with relatively little intonation. When he utters "We don't bleed when we don't fight" on the exquisite 'Runaway', the line speaks volumes, while the equally simple melody is fleshed out with elegant strings and brass. True, the tone is chiefly solemn, but every now and again the lyrics glimmer with dark humour.
From beginning to end 'High Violet' keeps you utterly engrossed. These tracks flow effortlessly into each other while still bringing something different to the one before. Honestly? The best album of 2010 so far.