It took me a few listen-throughs of this album before I started to find the emotional anchor points, the ideas and images that I connected to. Every album by The National has been this way for me, and High Violet is no exception.
There’s a oddness to some of the lyrical imagery that proves difficult for me to fully accept, like “It’s a terrible love and I’m walking with spiders”. I can’t understand how one would walk with spiders, or what that could mean in respect to his terrible love, so I let it pass me by. But by the third track in the album, “Afraid of Everyone” I found the hook.
Songs that bring me back to listen again and again are the ones that I can empathize with, and the line “With my kid on my shoulders I try not to hurt anyone that I like” was the empathy trigger. Every parent wants to be a good and kind role model for their child, but we’re still human and caught up in the complexities of social interaction. There’s a desperation in that line that I find compelling.
Even though there are a few examples of metaphors that don’t hit home for me (“Carried to Ohio in a swarm of bees” is another one), there’s enough emotion and storytelling in the album to bring me back for repeated listening. Sonically, the songs are well crafted and big. There is both a lush quality and a chaos, and a hint of dissonance that mirrors the unravelling in the lyrics.
Ultimately, if you already have a place in your heart for The National, this album will quickly fit in to that cubbyhole. If you’re new to the band, give the album some time to breathe and work its way into your heart. 7 out of 10.