It sometimes seems like the indie-rock scene is full of buzz bands who reach a certain insider level of visibility, but very few who achieve the kind of widespread acclaim of The National.
For me, that’s a comforting thing to see: I sometimes worry that when every band seems to be the cool group for the next 15 minutes, the cream has more trouble rising to the top. I’m not saying it’s been an easy road for The National, but their third album, Alligator, was extraordinary and began making people (like me) take notice. The followup, Boxer, was even better, and made lots of Best Of lists back in 2008. And now comes High Violet, which builds on The National sound without repeating anything from the last two albums.
The National’s songs are moody but catchy; you can lose yourself in the elusive, evocative lyrics, and in the layers of sound that buttress Matt Berninger’s vocals. But you can also recognize some interesting compositional tricks – the guitarist twins, Aaron and Bryce Dessner, are both classically trained composers as well as ace rock guitarists – and a keen ear for unusual but affecting orchestrations. (Check out the somehow regal yet melancholy horns on “Runaway” from the new album, for example.)
Most of the National also appears on the latest album by Bryce’s other band, the post-rock/chamber music quartet known as Clogs. It’s just another indication of the creative spirit and versatility of these musicians. Whatever the state of the music industry, bands like the National (the few that there are, so far) make me really optimistic about the state of music.