4. The National: High Violet [4AD]
If there was ever any question that The National was capable of being one of the few bands to define today’s musical landscape, High Violet – their fifth full-length studio album – should send a clear message that they are. Starting with 2005′s Alligator, followed by their magnum opus Boxer, and continuing to present day, The National are in the midst of a string of brilliant releases. Quite a rare feat in today’s musical universe.
At first blush, High Violet is a bit of a downer. Yet, somehow with each listen, the music morphs into a collection of deeply resonant songs, each thoughtful in its approach. After awhile you find yourself immersed in a sea of musical textures and sounds that do not readily make themselves known from the outset. In some ways High Violet is a continuation of the formula that the band executed effortlessly on Boxer. Lead singer Matt Berninger sings with ambiguity channeling, joy, reflection, despair and even oddity (“I was afraid I’d eat your brains”). And while the music continues along the same path as its predecessor, High Violet goes a step further. While both Boxer and High Violet seem to move at a similar pace, there is more grandiosity here. In particular, the last two songs on the album — “England” and “Vanderlyle,” which are the kind of songs that showcase a band that is in full command of its purpose with equal pomposity and grace. I’m not sure if these Ohio boys got anything left in the tank after this, but doubtless many will be waiting.