The National, High Violet (4AD, 2010)

The Ohio-born and Brooklyn-based indie band The National first came to my attention in 2007 when their album Boxer was named Album of the Year by Paste Magazine. Their distinctively brooding, ambient sound, driven mostly by the deep baritone of singer Matt Berringer, struck a chord with a lot of listeners. My own reaction to Boxer wasn't quite so ecstatic, but I did think it was a pretty solid record. Now The National return with a new album called High Violet, and not much has changed. The band have taken more or less the same approach they took last time out, and continue to get rave reviews.

High Violet is one of those albums that, for better and for worse, gives listeners exactly what they expect. There are no sharp left turns here, but if you like The National's previous work you'll like this at least as much. The songs are consistently moody and mid-tempo, and the combined effect of the songs as a whole is greater than the sum of the songs taken individually. Berringer is the kind of singer who manages to establish a commanding presence despite a limited vocal range. He only occasionally tries to hit some moderately high notes, but he gets your attention anyway. More importantly, his voice and intriguingly esoteric lyrics enhance the atmosphere that bandmates Aaron Dessner (guitar, keyboards), Bryce Dessner (guitar), Bryan Devendorf (drums), and Scott Devendorf (bass) create beneath him. The songs are pretty similar, a little too similar perhaps, but they get steadily better as the album progresses. The standout track is the penultimate song "England," which features a haunting riff that sticks with you when you put the album down.

On the whole, I think High Violet is a bit better than Boxer. People who've gotten excited over their previous work probably don't need my recommendation, but if you're not familiar with The National then the new album is as good a place as any to start.

Overall grade: A-

reviewed by Scott

The National perform "England" in front of the home crowd in Brooklyn.

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