May 10, 2010 Issue #31 - Spring 2010 - Joanna Newsom
The National is in danger of becoming another Spoon. Spoon is excellent, of course, and this is the kind of designation most bands would kill for, but the risk here is that by continually making solid records and not risking falling on their faces, the albums don't transcend; without risk, where's the thrill?
And so The National's excellent High Violet doesn't provide chills but steadily entertains. Matt Berninger's voice and lyrics carry a lot of the weight, though Bryan Devendorf has a starring role on the drums, often leading the charge. "I'm Afraid of Everyone" tells a tale of suburban morality and the anxiety behind it all. "With my kid on my shoulders/I try/not to hurt anybody/I like," Berninger sings. It's the kind of everyday fears that Berninger relates so well, but because they're somewhat commonplace, it reinforces the workman like quality of band.
There are a lot worse things to be. Berninger uses it to his advantage on "Lemonworld," a tale of war and the people who try to ignore it, "It'll take more than war to kill a college man like me" is a devastating and all too true internal sentiment. "I guess I've always been a delicate man," Berninger sings, which actually doesn't agree with the sheer power of his voice; it's hard to feel that he could be so powerless. "Bloodbuzz Ohio" works better, with Berninger talking about being "carried to Ohio by a swarm of bees." It's the kind of poetic risk he could take a lot more often. He keeps it grounded, "I never married/and Ohio don't remember me." The band, meanwhile, with the steady Dessner brothers always ready and able, carries on.
High Violet is a fine album, a very, very solid effort that contains some marvelous storytelling and near perfect execution. There are no faults to speak of. But that electricity, that fly by the seat of your pants thrill is something that eludes The National. (www.americanmary.com)
Author rating: 7/10
Average reader rating: 9/10