It was impossible to keep myself from putting “Fake Empire” on repeat after the release of The National’s previous album “Boxer.” The band’s fifth full-length album High Violet, released May 11th, was like going on 11 speed dates in a row: I didn’t know what I was going to get. By the end I felt like I was 5 years deep in a roller coaster relationship; I felt up, down, and more emotionally attached the longer I was involved.
While it wasn’t love at first sight, the somber maturity of the lyrics and the haunting low tone of Berninger’s vocals really did draw me in over time, though not in an uplifting way. The music of these hipster Brooklanites is intricate and brilliant the more you listen to it – it’s indie folk rock at its best not because it promises to uplift you but because it paints a picture of real life in young middle America.
The album starts off slow like heartbreak, with opposite of optimistic “Terrible Love” and “Somber,” but gradually builds up to its peak, “Bloodbuzz Ohio.” This song which hints at their mid-western roots, finds the fun in being broke with the lyrics “I still owe money to the money to the money I owe.” In “Lemonworld” he sings “This price stuff makes me dizzy / I guess I’ve always been a delicate man” showing recurring themes of money struggles.
The last few tracks are some of the best. “Conversation 16” – probably the catchiest of the tracks – is eerily romantic, as he and his muse “live on coffee and flowers “but he still” was afraid I’d eat your brains.” The anthem “England” sets the loss of his “guardian” in rainy England and is hypnotic enough to keep you holding on for the finale.
The album ends with the perfect mellow wind down track “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks,” instructing you to live alone and eat your cake and promising “I’ll explain everything to the geeks” which alludes to more albums to come for nerdy hipsters everywhere.