WVAU Top Music of 2010: #7

Kevin Kunitake, Nico Chapin

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#7 Album: The National – High Violet

Coming off their success of their breakthrough album, Boxer, it would have been easy for the National to sit back on their newfound success and play it safe. Fortunately, High Violet is much more then Boxer Pt. 2. It is, on first lesson, nothing less then a religious experience.

High Violet undeniably represents an evolution from Boxer. Whereas the latter included the same themes of alienation, the songs were more plodding, nearly ballad like. Here the National succeed at recapturing the sound they exhibited in what is undeniably the height of their career, the anthemic “Mr. November‰Û. Indeed while some songs, such as “Sorrow‰” and closing “Venderlyle Crybaby Greeks‰” slow things down, they keep the record moving at a fairly brisk pass. Meanwhile, others such as stand outs “Terrible Love‰” and “Afraid of Everyone‰” exhibit Explosions in the Sky like levels of instrumentation, hitting the listener with a wall of sound that is at once terrifying and exhilarating.

While High Violet maintains the National‰’s tradition of somewhat nonsensical lyrics, exuding an undeniable feeling of melodrama, here it is produced with a wink and a wry smile. In “Conversation 16‰” Beringer explains: I was afraid/I‰’d eat your brains/Because I am evil, a line so over the top that one has to feel there is more going on. Opener “Terrible Love‰” states over and over again: It‰’s a terrible love/ and I‰’m walking with spiders. Single “Bloodbuzz Ohio‰” includes the line: I was carried/ to Ohio in a swarm of bees, lamenting “I never married/but Ohio don‰’t remember me‰Û. And yet the National, perhaps because of the fact that they are by now, with five albums under their belt, a veteran act, are capable of getting away with their bizarre lyrics with a combination of irony and earnestness, which no other act this year was able to capture.

High Violet succeeds, more then any other album this year, at conveying real, profound feelings and emotions. The songs go beyond a series of words, as Okkervil River sang on their 2008 “Pop Lie‰Û, “calculated to make you sing along‰Û. Songs like “Afraid of Everyone‰Û, with the haunting backing vocals of Sufjan Stevens, imparts a feeling of isolation, of alienation ultimately building to a crescendo, with å_Beringer repeating: Your voice/Is swallowing my soul, over and over again until the instrumentation drowns him out, and Beringer‰’s rumbling baritone is quite literally swallowed by the music and reduced to as insignificant a being as the characters he sings about.

Ultimately though, High Violet is one of those rare albums that is exists as more then the sum of its parts. High Violet stands as a complete work, rushing past the listener just fast enough to enjoy, without overstaying its welcome. And not a single other album this year comes close to the feeling experienced as “Terrible Love‰” and “Afraid of Everyone‰” come to their climax, or the victorious trumpet that wanders its way in towards the end of “England‰Û. And although I‰’ve specifically mentioned a couple of songs, these sorts of moments can be found throughout the whole album, with each song revealing hidden gems of genius with each successive listen. These individual highs beat nearly every other musical moment this year, making me believe that High Violet is not just one of the best records of 2010, but a modern classic, one we will still be going back to years from now to hear one of indie music‰’s best bands at their peak.

Written by Nico Chapin

(This video’s got everything. 14-year old girls singing along! Sufjan on the tambourine! Vests! -Brian)

#7 Song: Janelle MonÌÁe ‰ÛÒ “Cold War”

“Cold War‰” is one of the catchiest and most sincere tracks off Janelle MonÌÁe‰’s debut, The ArchAndroid. She sings of finding her identity in a place where everyone seems to be pushing her in different directions, asserting “I‰’m trying to find my peace / I was made to believe there‰’s something wrong with me.‰” Her short couplets are broken up by the song‰’s refrain, “It‰’s a cold war / you better know what you‰’re fighting for‰Û, that echoes like a reminder of her constant uphill struggle. But this isn‰’t just a song about struggle; it‰’s an announcement of her arrival. Her vocal talent shines over this unique combination of upbeat funk and soul, like a powerful declaration that‰’s she‰’s here and doesn‰’t intend on leaving anytime soon. If this is war, it sounds like she‰’s winning.

Written by Kevin Kunitake