Elsewhere by Graham Reid

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Wide angle reviews, interviews and opinion by writer Graham Reid

The National: High Violet (4AD)

The National: Runaway
The National: High Violet (4AD)

Frankly, I want to like the National more, but their almost willfully/arty obscurantism is often off-putting. The DVD which came with their extended EP A Skin/A Night, The Virginia EP seemed like an attempt at creating depth in something which was inherently ordinary.

And I feel a little the same about this album: the all-in production attempts to carry the weaker material and the emotionally distant delivery by Matt Berninger lets the stronger material slip away into a kind of studied ennui.

A piano ballad as simple as Little Faith gets lost in the morass of drums and guitars and strings which are added; and distorted guitars do not necessarily make for a sense of discomfort. Sometimes (as on Afraid of Everyone) they are just annoying. At times you sense that in their attempt to distance their inherent musicality from the whole Coldplay/U2 ballad/alt.rock end of the spectrum (see Sorrow) they have fled too far in the other direction.

Yet every now and again here some terrific songs peek out (Lemonworld, Runaway, the mysterious Conversation 16, the languid England) almost tentatively, and at that point I -- and maybe you? -- like the National more. 

Your Comments

Tim - Jun 22, 2010

Sounds like I like The National more than you Graham but was nevertheless a bit disappointed with this after the wonderful "Boxer". The production seems a bit muddy too. I trust that despite your misgivings you would agree the Dessner bothers did a pretty nice job selecting tunes for"Dark Was the Night"

Jeremy - Jun 23, 2010

So disappointing after previous albums. Assumed that, even with the quality of The Virginia EP and their contributions to Dark Was The Night, they would have something up their sleeve for this album. But the problem is mostly in the mix and orchestration isn't it. Agree with Graham that sometimes a song will rise above the murk (eg Bloodbuzz, England), but mostly they're just buried. However if they return to NZ, I'll be first in line - if their 2008 show was anything to go by then they will breathe life into these songs on-stage.

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