The National, "High Violet"

86 Billboard Rating

Brooding Brooklyn indie-rock band the National arrives at its fifth studio album, "High Violet," in a precarious position. Because 2007 breakthrough set "Boxer" featured breathtakingly quiet arrangements and a more self-contained mood than previous efforts, a follow-up was always going to be a daunting endeavor. "High Violet" touches upon the same themes of aging, idealism and imperfect love, but uses the driving instrumentation of 2005 disc "Alligator" to quietly dazzle the listener. "Conversation 16" offers a bruising portrait of discontent over Bryan Devendorf's pounding drums, while the back-to-back anthems "Anyone's Ghost" and "Little Faith" form an album centerpiece worth countless listens. Singer/songwriter Matt Berninger has grown more confident and takes more risks on "High Violet," resulting in a slew of hypnotizing vocal hooks. "I still owe money to the money, to the money I owe/I never thought about love, when I thought about home," the frontman sings in his baritone warble on the racing "Bloodbuzz Ohio." "High Violet" synthesizes the best parts of the National's past into a fantastic present. --Jason Lipshutz