Artwork for an album is sometimes as important (sometimes even more so - see the career of every trash metal band ever) as the actual album itself. So with 2013 almost over I would like to go on record as saying that the cover of this album is one of the best one's I have seen this year (narrowly beaten by Waheela and their release 'Amber'). It is a simple and strange image which can hypnotize the listener. The natives of Cincinnati in Ohio have surely out done themselves with this cover for an album that reached number 3 on both sides of the Atlantic upon its release in May 2013. As with all releases by this band, I tend to take my time with them - like Shrek, they have many layers (if you believe what the Ogre says), and a knee jerk reaction with this band has done me no favours in the past.
Trying to follow the wave that had been caused by their last album 'High Violet', they took their time with this release and it also has some high profile guest appearances from members of Arcade Fire, Dark Dark Dark amongst others. Multiple guest appearances always worries me as it sometimes makes me feel that the band was not happy enough with what they were doing themselves, so they need other people to make it sound better. Other times it could be that they just wanted to work with their colleagues and friends. On this release, the guests whilst still visible are sort of hidden in the background with the band taking the centre stage as it should be. So on that front at least one possible distraction has been avoided.
With every release the band sounds more confident, on this album they sound like they know the world is there for the taking, and it does not hold anything back. Their post punk soundings are hypnotizing and to the point of addictive. When the opening acoustic guitar strum of "I Should Live In Salt" starts, it is obvious that they are on their way to perfect their already special brand of music. This is not something for the happy days; it is for those moments when you need to feel that there are people out there who know exactly how you are feeling. These guys just break your heart and repair it in some many ways. Following up is the song "Demons" which should be put down as an anthem for the ages; I still have goose bumps when I hear it now as I did in May. Then they speed things up (for them at least) with the album moving "Don't Swallow The Cap". It is strange when you hear a band grow before you in an instant; I thought they had peaked on their album "Boxer"; it is nice to be proven wrong.
The thing about The National is that they have a power and heavy vibe without having to be too heavy. Let me explain, when most people think of heavy music, it is usually either metal or grunge which comes to mind. These guys do not use that, they are clever in their writing and there is no need for a grunge or metal break-down. Songs like "Graceless" and "Heavenfaced" best showcase this and the further into the album, the better it gets. I did not want this album to end when I finished listening to it, and I still feel that way now. The brooding nature of the album means it is not an everyday work that I could listen to everyday, but whenever the mood takes it is one that I reach for each time. This is a possible contender for album of the year.
9 out of ten - Almost perfect, almost
You can purchase the album from Amazon here
You can visit the band's website here
You can listen to the album on Spotify here
Here is the video for "Demons"