The Best Albums of 2010

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.

The Greatest Albums of the 2000s

#2.  The National: Boxer (2007)- Hailing from Brooklyn, but originally from Cincinnati, The National developed a strong following over several years with a welcome brand of baroque-styled pop characterized by lead singer Matt Berninger’s deep Leonard Cohen-like vocals.  2005’s Alligator found the band approaching a zenith with their strongest offering yet.  Somehow they managed to up the ante with Boxer. An enduring collection of songs featuring Berninger front and center along with twins Aaron and Bryce Dessner, and brothers Scott and Bryan Devendorf.  The result is one the best collections of music released in the last 15-20 years.  In every aspect, the album is near perfection.  Songwriting? Check.  Production?  Check.  Musicianship? Check.  Vocals? Check.  Drummer Bryan Devendorf’s muscular playing sets the tone alongside skilled guitar parts, horns, strings, and piano among others.  Berninger explores a variety of different themes such as fake people [“Mistaken for Strangers”], two lovers fighting [“Start a War”], and the sheer jubilation of two people hiding out together away from the rest of the world [“Apartment Story”].  I’m not prepared to say that Boxer is the most important album to come out in the last ten years though and that is why it’s not #1.  Still……its by far my favorite.

Faves: Mistaken for Strangers, Slow Show, Apartment Story, Start a War, Guest Room