"High Violet." The National. After releasing a handful of well-received albums, Cincinnati-to-Brooklyn transplants The National garnered a huge fan base and frothing critical accolades with 2007's "The Boxer," a near-perfect album that played like the bastard son of Joy Division's morose post-punk and Bruce Springsteen at his most booze-soaked and blue-collar best.
The band has followed up that triumph with the release of "High Violet," one of 2010's most anticipated releases.
Following up such an acclaimed album is a daunting task for any band, and to The National's credit, "High Violet" is not a rehash of "The Boxer" or any previous albums.
That being said, "High Violet" is a far moodier beast, lacking the melodic structure and swerve that made up past releases. There are no disaffected anthems such as "Mistaken for Strangers" or "Apartment Story" here; they are replaced by such harrowing observations as "Terrible Love" and "Afraid of Everyone."
If there is a certain early-mid-late-30s malaise that has settled in on a generation best known for its unbridled sense of irony and cynicism, then The National provides the soundtrack. Vocalist Matt Berninger and company have crafted 11 vignettes that pinpoint specific emotions and anxieties with an unflinching exactitude.
While so much of today's indie-rock is littered with heavy-handed stylists, The National actually aims for substance. Amidst tastefully constructed orchestrations of guitar-pop and literate vistas into the lives of downtrodden gamblers and panic-stricken fathers (stay-at-home dads can be far bigger basket cases than their female counterparts from generations past), "High Violet" provides a sort of personal commentary on contemporary living that pulls no punches in laying out its vulnerabilities.
"High Violet" can be an unrepentant downer, richly textured yet mired in not-quite-midlife-crisis self-flagellation. Despite this, its ambition drags you willingly into its dark heart. Perhaps it's unfair to compare "High Violet" to "The Boxer's" level of craft, but the group's considerable effort and growth point to new depths in content.
It takes a few listens to sink its teeth in, but "High Violet" pays off in the end.