2010; 4ad; Ohio, via Brooklyn
I was sitting here on a corn flake waiting for the National to slip. Because it made sense. Because as rock history dictates, you work your way up, promising album, good album, masterpiece, and then you can't hit that mark a second time. Because every other amazing band in this year has far exceeded themselves, I thought there is no way there can be another surprise. One band has to slip. Because a year can't be consistently great straight across. Because no one can top Boxer. So, as much as I hated to predict doom, I thought this was fated to be the band's The Great Escape to follow Parklife, their Humbug from Favorite Worst Nightmare, their Get Behind Me Satan that would never live up to Elephant. It made sense.
It also made sense when I herd their first single from the album. 'Bloodbuzz Ohio' was a lot of things, but what I herd was something a bit more complex, a bit muddier than the simplicity of the loud-drums-and-vocals-over-undermixed-dissonant-guitar-soundscapes that populated the most accessible tunes on Boxer. And yes it was catchier than almost anything they'd ever done before but it was catchy in a less distinct way, in a less desperate important way. The lyrics preferred a more traditional straightforward meaning over their trademarked lost harshly unfocused abstractness. It favored a more colorful ambiance over their previous garage sensibilities. His voice was the same, but this was not the band I knew.
Everything I feared and disliked from Bloodbuzz Ohio carried over to the entirety of High Violet. And this was actually more than a good thing.
High Violet glows. And it does this with drawn out guitars and heavy piano lines and with horns and somehow uncorny strings and really when it comes down to it I don't know how this album glows like it does. but there it is. It glows with the uncertain luminance and the warmth of coals, fresh from the fire.
This is the most accessible album they have ever made, and are ever likely to make. And somehow that's a good thing too.
From the slow paced march of Terrible Love through to the strained crys of Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks, The National have created something with vitality and with power, and to achieve this it seems they needed to abandon their troubled detachment. This is no longer the sound of someone running away, or of someone biting their lip and screaming in their mind but keeping their head down, this is some trying honesty, someone caught up or frantically fighting back. The National have recaptured a passion and life that they morned during the course of Boxer. They even begin to border the Arcade Fire's my-god-the-world-is-ending aesthetic, without the self satisfied leanings that mar that band's output. This is the honest fight. No more trying to look cool, no more hiding behind poetry, this is the time for the National to say what they mean, and say it straight.
What makes this harder is how much this music means to me, and how much the National in general have meant to me in the past, but really there is more than that. A lot of music means a lot to me, a lot of people have various music that holds for whatever reason a lot of meaning for them. This has surpassed that, beyond my own subjectivity. High Violate means a lot, not just to me - it holds meaning, period. This is instant classic, this is immediate effect, we will look back in years to come and remember the third week in May when these notes pulsed through our veins.
Something is happening in 2010. I don't know why. For the last few years there has been consistently great music, but you knew and I knew something was off. Something we couldn't completely get behind. A lack of confidence or real seriousness, a lack of violence perhaps. Something was missing, enough for us to stand with the new music world, but not quite. And somehow in the four and a half short months since the decade turned bands have started again going for the throat, digging their heals in. We've gotten back the wild desperation, along with the anger and the passion and the wry confidence. We've gotten back bands that don't apologize. Something is happening.