The National High Violet

The National High Violet
The National have really perfected their shtick — start with slow, brooding atmosphere then build to a faster, louder, but still brooding, atmosphere — on 2007's The Boxer. That formula is still at the heart of the Brooklyn, NY-based band's fifth record, but the quintet are getting much better at hiding it, or at least finding variations. Each of High Violet's 11 tracks stand on their own, with crescendos and decrescendos when you least expect it. "Sorrow" is classic National, with Matt Beringer's baritone in full effect, while "Lemonworld" showcases the depth of the band's ornate sonic experimentation. Despite the record's triumphs, and there are many, the thing it's lacking is momentum. National tracks are always laid bare, built from the ground up to their inevitable peak. On a song-by-song basis, this makes for very beautiful and often-visceral recordings that feel like they're encapsulating the world in dark, three-and-a-half-minute clips. But repeatedly coming down from such highs just to start all over is an exhausting process. First single "Bloodbuzz Ohio" and "Conversation 16" are the only tracks that let you join in partway through, negating the aural roller coaster for a few brief minutes. But patient listeners will find much to love on High Violet, a deceptively deep record that continues to throw surprises at you even after half-a-dozen listens. (4AD)