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Few bands are as consistently excellent as the National, and with High Violet the Brooklyn five-piece (and an all star roster of guest performers) continue a tradition of crafting densely layered masterpieces. The group’s latest effort is a dark, brooding titan of an indie rock record, combining dark pop sensibilities, intricate orchestral arrangements and sorrowful, contemplative atmospheres.

Lyrically, the band hasn’t lost a step. Even when he throws out a line that should be patently ridiculous (“I was afraid/that I’d eat your brains/’Cause I’m Evil”), Matt Berninger’s baritone is so strong that he manages to imbue the lyrics with a palpable sense of menace. The singer still has a knack for turning a clever phrase (“Lay me on the table / Put flowers in my mouth and we can call it a summer lovin’ torture party,” “Everything means everything,” “You can put on your bathing suit and I’ll try to find something from this thing that means nothing”), and the lyrics are uniformly excellent.

And thoroughly depressing.

Make no mistake—High Violet is a sad, sad record. Almost every track is permeated with a sense of despair, resignation or defeat, making it clear both that Berninger is tired of life’s heartbreaks and that he has accepted them as unavoidable. On the very first track, Berninger sings that “It takes an ocean not to break,” the tone of his voice conceding that he is no ocean. He goes on to insist that he “didn’t want to be anyone’s ghost,” that he doesn’t “have the drugs to sort it out,” and that “sorrow won.” Berninger has ceded defeat, admitting that he is not strong enough to overcome the obstacles in his way. Many of the songs are crushingly depressing, revealing a narrator who has not seen a victory in a long, long time. There are hints of optimism, as the album ends with Berninger proudly stating that he “won’t be a runaway” and that while “the waters are rising,” the swans are singing, and all is forgiven.

The morose lyrical themes are supported by brilliantly executed instrumentations. Fraternal duos Aaron and Bryce Dressner and Scott and Bryan Devendorf do an outstanding job, painting the perfect backdrops for Berninger’s vocals. Guitars shimmer, twist and intertwine with the bass, which roams across the register, providing as much melody as it does rhythm.  Keyboards mark haunting progression of chords and add flourishes to guitar riffs, while horns and strings underlie everything providing powerful emphasis.

And the drums—oh, the drums. Bryan Devendorf’s drum beats have never been anything but spectacular, and his work on High Violet is no different. Shying away from traditional schemes and standard rock drumming, Devendorf writes parts that are just as important and melodic as any guitar part.  His drums transform album standout (and single) “Bloodbuzz Ohio” from a slow, syrupy ballad into a churning, frantic cry for help as he pounds toms, snares, cymbals and kick drums with reckless abandon.

With High Violet, the National have written an album that is more than a worthy successor to 2007’s critically adored Boxer. High Violet is a complex, engaging record, offering plenty of motivation for repeat listening. Even now, over fifty listens in, familiar parts give me shivers, I’m surprised by new details, and I slowly decipher lyrics. Each song is meticulously crafted, with layer upon layer of detail but none of the songs feel stale or canned. High Violet is a remarkable achievement for the National, and solidifies them as one of the best bands in today’s musical world.

Go buy this album. Treat yourself.

out of 5 weasels.

Click PLAY for a 30 second free MP3 of each track or the track name for lyrics in a new tab/window

  1. Terrible Love
  2. Sorrow
  3. Anyone’s Ghost
  4. Little Faith
  5. Afraid of Everyone
  6. Bloodbuzz Ohio (FREE MP3)
  7. Lemonworld
  8. Runaway
  9. Conversation 16
  10. England
  11. Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks

Visit The National online:  americanmary.com myspace.com/thenational

“Bloodbuzz Ohio” music video

“High Violet” promo clip

Never trust a hamster. Support the artist and find out for yourself. WestCoastWeasel.com encourages purchasing High Violet locally at Red Cat Records in Vancouver, B.C, any independent record store of your choice or online here.

Category : Turncoat Turntable | | Date : May 17, 2010

The last time I really listened to Crystal Castles was just before the 2009 Coachella Music and Arts Festival, as I was prepping for their set. The band rewarded my preparation (and the support of several hundreds of fans) by showing up strung out, a half hour late to their 50 minute set. Alice then treated the huge crowd with off-key, off-tempo shrieks and wails (don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Alice’s screeches when they’re pulled off well on tracks like “Xxzcxuzx Me,” but they were not done so well here), effectively ruining any chance the duo had at pulling off a worthy performance. Needless to say, I was turned off of the band, and their self-titled debut soon made its way to the bottom of my music collection.

Then 2010 rolled around, and a new track began floating around the internet. “Celestica” sounded like Crystal Castles were back in top form, mixing trance synths, glitchy chiptune beats and ethereal vocals. Shortly thereafter, the band’s second self-titled album leaked, and the release was moved up to April 23. Intrigued by the lead single, I decided to give Crystal Castles another shot, and I’m glad that I did.

On Crystal Castles (II), the band does a really good job of balancing sedate, sublime numbers like the aforementioned “Celestica” with abrasive, challenging songs like “Doe Deer.”  The duo never lets listeners get comfortable, jerking back and forth between calm and storm, doing their best to lure the audience into a false sense of security before shocking them with screams, overdriven synths and heavy drum beats.

While the band’s debut did a fair enough job of mixing up relaxed and tense songs, Crystal Castles (II) showcases the band juggling the two opposing themes within the same song. “Baptism” alternates between quiet verses characterized by a throbbing bass line and a glitchy, 8-bit keyboard riff and loud, exaggerated choruses where Alice screams “This is your baptism / And you can’t forgive them” above booming drums and stuttering, expansive synths. Ethan Kath and Alice Glass have certainly developed as songwriters, and do a much better job at balancing cohesiveness and diversity.

One of the key aspects of Crystal Castles (II) is that even though it works from the same basic palette as the duo’s debut (8-Bit Keyboards, some samples, drum machines and some vocals), it manages to remain interesting and engaging throughout. My biggest gripe with the band’s earlier work is that it is fairly homogenous, and easy to get bored of. By making each song more internally diverse, Crystal Castles are able to keep the listener’s attention for the whole 50 minutes of Crystal Castles (II).

The songs on the band’s newest album have the ability to be even more popular than “Crimewave” or “Magic Spells,” dance anthems for the hipster crowd. The duo from Toronto have an ear for poppy hooks and present them through a uniquely distorted lens. I’m sold on this album, maybe even enough to give them another shot live.

Maybe.

Crystal Castles was released digitally on April 23, 2010. It will be released physically May 25, on Fiction Records.

out of 5 weasels.

Choice Cuts: Empathy, Baptism, Celestica

Click each track name for lyrics in a new tab/window

  1. Fainting Spells
  2. Celestica
  3. Doe Deer
  4. Baptism
  5. Year of Silence
  6. Empathy
  7. Suffocation
  8. Violent Dreams
  9. Vietnam
  10. Birds
  11. Pap Smear
  12. Not in Love
  13. Intimate
  14. I Am Made of Chalk

“Celestia”

Visit Crystal Castles online: crystalcastles.commyspace.com/crystalcastles

“Crimewave” from Crystal Castles (I)

“Knights” from Crystal Castles (I)

“Courtship Dating” from Crystal Castles (I)

Never trust a hamster. Support the artist and find out for yourself. WestCoastWeasel.com encourages purchasing Crystal Castles locally at Red Cat Records in Vancouver, B.C, any independent record store of your choice or online here.

Category : Turncoat Turntable | | Date : May 1, 2010