Saturday, April 24, 2010

High Time for High Violet?

[The National's new album, High Violet, comes out next month, but you can listen now at the New York Times]

The last album I truly loved and listened to obsessively was The National's Boxer.  This album came out in 2007, but I didn't get into it until 2008.  Still, that means it's been two years since I lost my head for an album.  In a way this is sad, perhaps even tragic.  I'm sure there have been great albums that have come out since Boxer (and a million great albums pre-2007/8 that I still haven't heard) but I seem to have lost the energy it takes to find new music, develop an audiocrush, and thrash an album.

It's aging, isn't it?  Once upon a time your parents liked new music, they went to concerts, they bought records (some of them still seem cool -- Astral Weeks, Trout Mask Replica -- some seem beyond redemption -- Crime of the Century, Hot Chocolate).  But at some point they stopped welcoming new bands into their record collection and settled for searching the bargain bins for Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich or Elton John's Greatest Hits.

So here I am, twenty-seven, working a desk job with dreams of saving a deposit for a house, trying to write the great American Kiwi novel short story villanelle at night, and there just isn't the time to buy/download/acclimatise to new bands and albums.

Sigh.

Perhaps it won't be permanent.  I'm conscious of my static music collection, and hope to do something about it.  I hope there'll be another album that I'll listen to thiurty times in thirty days.  Perhaps it will be The National's new album, High Violet?

The album is streaming here in advance of it's full release in May.

I've listened to it once, but it's hard to say if I'll make space for it in my life the way I did for Boxer.  All of The National's previous albums, and their individuals songs, were growers, improving with each listen, worming their way into your head. With Matt Berninger's flat baritone it takes a few listens for the lyrics to sink in.  And all that repetition: I can understand how some people would write these songs off as boring dirges...

So it's not surprising that I wasn't grabbed often on my first listen to 'High Violet'.  'Bloodbuzz Ohio' is fantastic -- perhaps it's the new 'Mistaken For Strangers' (but I suspect it will never speak to me like MFS did...
you wouldn’t want an angel watching over
surprise, surprise they wouldn’t wannna watch
another uninnocent, elegant fall into the unmagnificent lives of adults
You can download 'Bloodbuzz Ohio' for free here and decide for yourself).

'Lemonworld' and 'England' are cool on a first listen too.  But what about the first two tracks?  Perhaps I didn't like them so much because I was distracted by the feature on the band (on the same page as the album stream) by Nicholas Dawidoff, which is beyond poorly written, to begin with at least...
He [Matt Berninger, the band's vocalist] is tall, with a sturdy jib, cool blue eyes, a three-day reddish blond beard and enough lead-singer swagger to hold his own among all those siblings.
Especially tenacious are Bryce and Aaron, sideburned former Cincinnati high-school soccer midfielders. More laid-back are the Devendorfs; each can half-disappear behind his large eyeglasses even though one is strikingly lean and lanky (Bryan), while the other is strikingly spare of pate (Scott).
Maybe one reason I've ebbed away from new music is I can no longer stomach the sort of music journalism where people write things like "a migraine disaffection was spreading"?

It couldn't contrast more with the Berninger's lyrics which are both dense and simple.  It's rare to find a metaphor or a word you wouldn't use in conversation, and yet it's unlike any conversation you'd ever have ("I was carried to Ohio in a storm of bees...").  It doesn't surprise me his notebook is all over the place:


In writing this post, I've listened to 'High Violet' another time through, and it's already growing on me. But I think I'll leave the stream alone for now and wait to buy the album in May.

I can't promise 'Bloodbuzz Ohio' won't pop up on my iTunes, though, and that I won't hit repeat...

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