The National are masters of the soft touch; of slow-burning subtlety; of the gentle caress which hides a knockout blow. ‘High Violet’, their fifth album, sees the five-piece continue on the path that’s seen both the confidence and the quality of their songwriting swell, record by record. Singer Matt Berninger’s idiosyncratically deep vocals and the bands expansive arrangements, depthless imagination and musical restraint are all here in superb effect. Opener ‘Terrible Love’ is a slow-builder with a tumultuous climax; a huge, angry, cathartic release, while ‘Sorrow’ is simply heartbreaking. As with all National albums, there’s little in the way of instant gratification – no instant hit – but this band has a peerless ability to make music which seeps into your consciousness, slowly ferments and finally produces a musical wine of such intoxicating majesty you’re left dumbstruck.

By Chris Watkeys

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