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Top Twenty Albums

The National High Violet

[4AD]

After the wrenching emotional impact of Boxer, the National’s 2007 breakthrough, the expectations for its follow-up were more inflated than Tea Party campaign promises. As such, the greatest mistake for diehard fan or casual listener would be to use the suffocatingly desolate Boxer to navigate the decidedly darker, moodier and more complex High Violet. With their latest full-length, the Cincinnati-born/Brooklynbased National beautifully blend their formidable gifts, exemplified by the trembling shiver of “Terrible Love.” Matt Berninger’s almost hymnal delivery of the lyrics in his sonorous baritone mesmerizes as the band quietly stirs up the distilled spirit of, say, the Smiths produced by T-Bone Burnett and Steve Albini. But as the song builds, the shimmer turns to squalling shoegaze chaos, Berninger struggles to maintain sanity in the face of love’s seemingly unwelcome advances, and the band floats sweet Beach Boys vocal harmonies just above the churn. It’s an unsettlingly perfect launch for the National’s epistle of beautiful doom, a comfortable but disturbing triangulation of Leonard Cohen, Magnetic Fields and Radiohead. Moments of gorgeous melodicism are matched by a disquieting undercurrent of discord and dread, and the band shows its amazing facility for sounding epic and intimate simultaneously. With High Violet, the National proved more than their maturity, musicality and stamina—they produced a lasting work showcasing their incredible diversity, immediacy and classicism. —BB

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cowbell

Frightened Rabbit

The Winter of Mixed Drinks [Fat Cat] This was a bleak year. Sometimes it felt a bit like drowning—fortunately Frightened Rabbit frontman Scott Hutchison was coming down with us. Following the Scottish band’s casually devastating Midnight Organ Fight—a record that occasionally felt downright fun, until you started paying attention—March’s Winter of Mixed Drinks delves deeper into moody atmospherics and welcome distortion. Simultaneously exuberant and heartbreaking, the album’s strongest moments are its strangest: the cacophonous fuzz of “Skip the Youth” dissipating to reveal a man burying himself alive, the soaring refrain of “Not Miserable” (a song that oscillates between earnestness and irony on every listen) or the haunting reprise “Man/Bag of Sand.” Over and over, Hutchison returns to his central motif—rising waters, receding shorelines, “all the pieces lost in the flood”—creating a cohesive vision of a world (or a relationship; this is angsty indie rock after all) slipping away. Thank goodness there’s still a glimmer of hope in the lush beauty of band’s layered sound and their frontman’s exquisite emotionalism. —LS

The national photo by susanna howe

Dimple Records' In-Store Magazine, December 2010  
Dimple Records' In-Store Magazine, December 2010  

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