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The National – High Violet: Review

The indie rock band, The National, has an upcoming album with a release date of May 10 entitled High Violet. For those who have not read my other reviews, know that this is far out of my comfort zone for music. Most of the indie rock fans will actually find nothing to relate to in this so-called “review”. Despite the strictness of my interpretation of music in general, I found this album to be rather enjoyable. However, there are many others who show much more enthusiasm towards this album than I do.

The Music (rating: B)

  1. Terrible Love
  2. Sorrow
  3. Anyone’s Ghost
  4. Little Faith
  5. Afraid of Everyone
  6. Bloodbuzz Ohio
  7. Lemonworld
  8. Runaway
  9. Conversation 16
  10. England
  11. Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks

I don’t listen to enough indie rock to be able to compare this album to anything. At some points, it is somewhat ambient, while at others it is rather upbeat. It has a strong “indie” feel which it stays true to throughout. This is reflected in the tone and distortion levels of the guitar, the tone of the voice, the sound of the drums, and the style of the bass.

What elevates it above other indie rock albums is the fullness of the music given by the use of a wide range of instruments. There are the standard rock instruments (bass, guitar, drums, and vocals) as well as piano, strings, choir, and so on. The large combination of instruments potentially adds a great variety of dynamics, atmospheres, and tones. From the other bands I have heard, they do not do this nearly as well as The National.

However, one should notice how I earlier used the word “potentially”. Personally, I found this album to be rather one-dimensional. There is a small range of tempos used, the shifts in dynamics are all used basically the same way, and every song has a rather standard “indie” feel. It is true that they add layers of depth to the album, but not to the extent that it may seem. Still, the grand catalog of instruments is a great aspect of this album, and saves it from possibly falling into the background in the indie rock scene.

Where the album falls short of my musical expectations is the extent to which it can be musically appreciated. There is nothing out of the ordinary done musically. Having every song stuck in one key can often be quite dry. Also, there is nothing outside the standard 4/4 time signature niche. These aspects detract from the album’s uniqueness in a sense. But on a positive note, the song structures are somewhat unorthodox, adding some originality to the album.

But also, none of the instruments do anything spectacular in High Violet. The bass gives the occasional flashy bassline, but often retorts to the boring straight-note bassline. At best, the vocals are standard; the phrasing is mundane and the technicality is nonexistent. And the guitar is often basic chords, though at times can give a decent riff. The highlight of the band is the drummer, who can give creative rhythms, though often within the limits of mediocrity. In terms of instrumental execution, this album is nothing more than average.

From a my musical standpoint, I found this album to be better than average. It is most likely that indie rock fans will enjoy this much more than I (maybe an A- for them). But other than the vast number of instruments and the abnormal song structures, there was nothing overly creative or finely executed in High Violet. Of course I refer to, as always, the musicianship and the instrumentals. But I’m one of the few individuals who actually appreciate music for the musical aspects themselves. I’ve found that for most people, their enjoyment comes from the general feel and the tone and atmosphere of the music. So for those who love either indie rock or The National, this is an album for you.

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