The National isn't one of those bands that latch onto you with hooks and clobber you with rousing choruses until suddenly you're screaming, "Your sex is on fire!" The Brooklyn-based quintet uses more of the boiling-frog approach, soothing you with musical subtleties and dramatic nuances that you lose track of no matter how many times you've listened to the album straight through and are too blissed-out to care.
"High Violet" (4AD) finds the unusual, symbiotic relationship between singer Matt Berninger and the rest of his band at its peak. Berninger weaves haunting, detailed tales with his deep, world-weary baritone, while the guitar-playing Dessners, Bryce and Aaron, and the rhythm-section Devendorfs, drummer Bryan and bassist Scott, build elaborate soundscapes to support them.
Sometimes, they are straightforward and rock-oriented, as in the rhythm-driven "Anyone's Ghost" or the U2-influenced "Lemonworld." Sometimes, they are subtle and orchestral, as in "Runaway," where the band surrounds Berninger's complaints and rallying cries ("I won't be no runaway," he promises, "because I won't run") with muted horns and acoustic loveliness. And sometimes, they build to epic proportions, as in "England," where the gorgeous, regal arrangements are the stars, as Berninger offers a series of mantras.
It's the riveting "Bloodbuzz Ohio," driven by wild rhythms and a guitar roar, that may end up introducing The National to the mainstream. But, even without a radio hit, "High Violet" will get discovered by new legions of fans. It's too good to keep secret.