The National provide another stunning effort with High Violet

Good thing they’re consistent.

The fifth full-length album by The National, High Violet, is different from past releases, but it’s still unsurprisingly great. On 2007’s Boxer, the band managed to scale back its overt intensity and loudness, instead favoring the emotion in the subtlety of arrangements. Singer Matt Berninger stopped screaming some of his lyrics and let the poignancy of the music rather than the brutality of screams reach out to listeners.

On High Violet, that much remains the same. Berninger allows himself to sing in a notably higher range at points, but besides that there are no sudden differences in volume. Instead, we get more expansive, ghostly songs. Where Boxer pinpointed specific moods, High Violet expands its tracks to more subjective emotional heights. Ethereal background vocals often complement Berninger, and surprising guitar riffs — like the claustrophobic phrase in “Afraid of Everyone” — yank the listener away from getting lost in the atmosphere.

The album also branches out instrumentally. Besides hosting a bunch of previously unused guitar effects, High Violet boasts more involved string, piano, horn and woodwind parts, though none are ever focused on too heavily. They fit where they’re meant to, and they do what they’re meant to do — add to the atmosphere. There’s nothing like a clarinet or flute solo here, and the album’s better for it.

Only the final track, “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks,” threatens to wear its arrangement on its sleeve too obviously, with its bleeding-heart strings and downbeat piano chords.

But elsewhere? There are no issues. The front half of the album deals confidently with the band’s more straightforward side — “Sorrow,” “Anyone’s Ghost” and “Little Faith” are effective, if unspectacular — while the back end completely kills. Starting with track five, “Afraid of Everyone,” The National settles into its groove for a bit before letting loose the stunning repeated-refrain “Runaway,” magisterial “Conversation 16” and “England,” which may be in the top five songs the band has produced to date.

Somehow, with High Violet, The National managed to slightly shift their sound but still come across exactly like The National should. It’s a wonderful testament to the band’s power — the album very rarely slips up. There are only a couple of songs (“Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks,” “Terrible Love” if you can’t stand the lower-end production) that can even be considered filler. It’s a wonderful album, but with this band, would you have expected anything less?

The National – “Bloodbuzz Ohio” [MP3]

The National – “Afraid of Everyone” [MP3]

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