In elementary school, we read The Important Book, which drew gradual, but obvious conclusions about common objects: "The important thing about rain is that it is wet. It falls out of the sky and it sounds like rain, and makes things shiny, and it does not taste like anything, and is the color of air. But the important thing about rain is that it is wet."
The important thing about The National is Matt Berninger’s oaken voice. The music they make has a keen ability to heal what ails you, loaded with profound lyrics and a somber gravity that somehow isn’t depressing. Their latest release, High Violet, goes even further to highlight the band’s great sense of timing and sound-layering, making a thoroughly enjoyable album that cuts as deeply emotionally as it pleases sonically. And Bryan Devendorf’s drums are almost intuitive, playing a key role in building such an effective sound, more on High Violet than on ever before. But the important thing about The National is Matt Berninger’s voice.(cont'd after the jump)
High Violet is going to make a lot of year-end Top 10 lists, and for good reason: it’s their most complex album to date, mostly uplifting despite opening lines like “Sorrow found me when I was young.” Berninger paints lyrical portraits of a fallen world and its retreating citizens watching their various lives crash and burn, from “the Mahattan valleys of the dead” on “Anyone’s Ghost” to the paranoia-ridden, gloomy voice in “Afraid of Everyone”: “I don’t have the drugs to sort it out.”
Those aforementioned drums are especially essential on the cinema-ready “Bloodbuzz Ohio,” the album’s first single. This song is upbeat, illuminating and gratifying and, like the best ballads, hits a little too close to home. You don’t need to know what a “bloodbuzz” is to understand the meaning here: blood ties, family, yoked to history, roots, love, the individual, memory, fate, “the floors are falling out from everybody I know.”
“Lemonworld,” perhaps more so than other tracks here, paints in broad strokes an image that is familiar and yet external, of a young man found and then lost again in another home, in a foreign world—again drawing on allusions to home, family, and finding a niche in a broken-down world. “You can put on your bathing suits,” he sings, “and I’ll try to find something on this thing that means nothing / you and your sister live in a lemonworld / I wanna sit in and die.” It’s moving and momentous and an all-around well-done song, my favorite on the album.
Each track presents a new opportunity to be impressed: “Runaway” is an orchestrated ballad boosted by percussion, while “Anyone’s Ghost” drips with dramatic grit underneath military-style snare drums. “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” might make you cry in its pure beauty. “Conversation 16” is a sprawling, choral attempt as self-bemoaning as Radiohead’s “Creep” or Beck’s “Loser.” Berninger sings like he’s got burdens, like he’s got the weight of centuries bearing down on him. Maybe he should have been a blues singer, but I have a feeling the gravity of that voice might out-blue the blues. After all, the important thing about The National is Matt Berninger’s voice.
-- Caroline Klibanoff
Listen to "Lemonworld" from High Violet here: (thanks NPR)