I Tell You Miserable Things After You Fall Asleep - High Violet at 10
I have two, very personal and specific memories that come to mind almost immediately when I think of High Violet, the fifth full length from The National, and the time in my life that surrounded the release of the album—in May, 2010; a decade ago.
Both memories involve my time working in radio—small town, AM radio, to be precise.
I started working at the radio station at the end of 2008 as the co-host and producer of a weekly, hour long variety show based around a handful of teenagers plucked from a youth center in town that I, for a year, worked at via an Americorps position1. The station was very clear they had almost canceled the show a number of times before I took an interest in it, and kind of took responsibility for wrangling the kids and generating content. The manager at the station really liked what I had done with the program, and after my year with Americorps ended, he said he wanted to keep the show going with me involved, so I was added to the payroll as an employee of KYMN Radio.
About six months later, I became courageous enough2 to pitch the idea of my own, hour-long, daily show, airing from 3 to 4 p.m. The station went for it, surprisingly, and my show debuted on a Wednesday afternoon in mid-March, 2010.
What does this have to do with The National?
The first single from High Violet, “Bloodbuzz, Ohio,” was released this same day. And this was still at a time when new music was announced, it was often shared via a downloadable mp33 from sites like Pitchfork or Stereogum, rather than an embedded YouTube video, or a link to stream it from Spotify or Apple Music.
Prior to coming back on the air to speak in between songs, I downloaded “Bloodbuzz, Ohio” onto one of the computers in the studio, quickly tried to preview it as best I could to make sure there wasn’t any questionable language, and if I remember correctly, made a pretty big deal about debuting the song4 during my show.
The other memory involving High Violet is very similar.
As was the case with the album before it, Boxer, if I remember correctly, a low quality rip of High Violet had leaked onto the it internet about a month before its proper release; as a ‘bad fan,’ I downloaded it immediately and had time to begin immersing myself in the songs. And as difficult as a task as it wound up being, I refrained from playing any of them during my radio show, because the album was not ‘officially’ available yet.
As a ‘good fan,’ I had of course pre-ordered physical copies of High Violet—both on CD and LP, and there’s this feeling of elation I can remember getting when, much to my surprise, the package with both copies of the album arrived in the mail on a Thursday—a full six days before the actual release date. It seems like such a small, insignificant, and borderline materialistic thing to become that excited about, and in retrospect, it is kind of funny to me that I could feel that much excitement, or joy, about anything at one point in my life—but the excitement also came from knowing I could, then, finally begin working more of those songs into my hour of radio that very afternoon.
High Violet represents a band not so much ‘at a crossroads’ with their career, but it’s the sound of a band getting very close to a crossroads.
The origin story of The National has been told countless times, so the shortened version of it is this: two sets of brothers (one of the sets being twins), and one very tall, nervous frontman with a baritone and penchant for talk-singing—all originally from Cincinnati—reconnected in Brooklyn in 1999 before the dot com burst. They formed the group and released two very ramshackle full-lengths, as well as an EP, via Brassland—the label started by Aaron and Bryce Dessner (the twins brothers in the group), all before signing to Beggars Banquet (later being shifted to 4AD for subsequent releases.)
It took The National about five or six years to finally gain traction outside of the East Coast, and in the time between their third album, Alligator, and its follow up, Boxer, the group had really no idea just how big of a following it had gotten.
High Violet isn’t the crossroads—but it’s a band that took its time finding its way, and slowly accepted the success it had amassed. It represents, sonically and lyrically, the end of a chapter for the group—a snapshot of The National at their most focused, before they became restless and uncertain, less mysterious, and experimental as they pushed things forward.
Handling most of the album’s production by themselves for the first time—opting not to work exclusively with Peter Katis, who had handled a bulk of the production on both Alligator and Boxer, High Violet is also a robust and bright sounding album—even when, lyrically, a song can be dark, or somber, in tone, the arranging is soaring and enormous. The band’s main lyricist and frontman, Matt Berninger, famously has mentioned5 that he felt Alligator was all release and no tension, while Boxer was all tension with no release—High Violet, an album that features no truly volatile moments, is still made up almost entirely of a give and take; beautiful moments of contemplation as well as catharsis; of stark, shadowy observations (though growing less shadowy comparatively) and pathos.
If Alligator was the sound of a young band, apprehensive about larger opportunities, desperately trying to hold onto a specific, tangible feeling of a fleeting youthful recklessness, and if Boxer is the sound of that same band, gaining a little more confidence, slowly beginning to realize you can’t stay young and reckless forever—then High Violet is the sound of a band, despite their best efforts, accepting ‘adulthood’ and maturation, and really growing into themselves—both as arrangers and musicians, but specifically Berninger as a vocalist and lyricist. High Violet marks a sharp, noticeable turn in the delivery of his lyrics—no longer nervously half spoken/half sung, as they had been for the first decade of the band, he was easing into his voice and his range; and lyrically, there is a real contrast at times with how direct Berninger was becoming.
Yes, things are still dressed up in metaphor, but the imagery he uses is not as shadowy or claustrophobic as it was in the past. Berninger is, perhaps, the one who embraced, or found his way into ‘adulthood’ first, or was at least the most public about it—posing with his young, crying daughter for the cover of an issue of Under The Radar magazine around the time of the album’s release; perhaps this is one of the things that makes his observations a little more casually accessible this time out.
High Violet is also the first time the band has been so direct with songs that make me feel, as I often say6, ‘seen,’ or ‘attacked.’ Yes, of course, I saw some glimmers of myself in Boxer, specifically in my early 20s, when the album came out, and yes, specifically in songs like “Slow Show,” “Green Gloves,” and especially “Apartment Story”—but here, as Berninger grew into his lyricism, and things became more directly personal without the veil of mystery or ambiguity around them, it’s very easy for many of these songs to become mirrors that he is holding up to you—and all you can do is stare back into the parts of yourself that you may not like.
Sorrow found me when I was young.
Sorrow waited; sorrow won
Bookended by moments of sheer catharsis and grandeur, High Violet is one of The National’s finest albums to date—it may even be as close to utterly flawless as their canon gets, with, really, only one song that is not ‘bad,’ per se, but is not as well executed as the other 10 on the record. It’s the band’s shortest—11 songs on the proper album, with a 12th tacked on as an iTunes bonus track, and that song, “Walk Off,” would later find itself included in the ‘expanded edition’ of the album, released six months later. Similarly to the expanded reissue of Alligator, which included a handful of b-sides and some alternate mixes, the expanded edition of High Violet also includes an alternate (and not nearly as powerful) mix of the album’s opening track, “Terrible Love,” an uncharacteristically jaunty number called “Wake Up Your Saints,” a moody, vulgar, and shuffling b-side, “Sin-Eaters,” and the slow and pensive—and hands down, one of my favorite National songs, “You Were A Kindness.”
Not as weighed down as their latter day albums have tended to get (at times it works, other times it doesn’t) the thing that makes High Violet so nearly perfect is that it never relents; even when the pacing ebbs and flows, especially when it dips into the slow burning “Runaway,” the album itself never feels like it’s slowing down, or dragging, the way moments of Boxer tend to feel, especially as it coasts into its final third.
Berninger’s lyrics, yes, they became less dressed up and reliant on fragmented imagery for a bulk of High Violet, but that doesn’t mean he has given up that device completely. Right out of the gate, the band is evocative with “Terrible Love”—a sheer cacophony of an opening track. Built around a muted, distorted strummed guitar (pulled from a demo version of the song if I am remembering correctly) the band just goes for it all, layering more and more elements as it continues to build into a beautiful frenzy.
“It’s a terrible love and I’m walking with spiders,” Berninger repeats throughout the song—perhaps one of the album’s most mysterious lines, as well as being one of the most metaphorically wild and vivid, tapping into that nervous, jittery tension that the band is now well known for as the song continues to swirl around. “And I can’t fall asleep without a little help,” he sings as the song moves forward, stretching ‘a little’ out much, much further out with huge, desperate pauses in between syllable. “It takes awhile to settle down my shivered bones—until the panic’s out.”
Then, there is the line that is returned to nearly as much as the song’s titular phrase, though this one has much more weight to it, and leaves a lot more to ruminate on—“It takes an ocean not to break.”
Almost all of High Violet was immediate for me; almost. I say that because when I think back to a decade ago, and listening to this album repeatedly, I feel like there may have been a few songs that it took a little longer for me to ease into. “Sorrow,” strangely enough, is one of them.
Maybe it’s because the album’s second track—the strummy, fast paced “Sorrow” is a bit of a come down after the torrential opening moments. Or maybe it’s because, a decade ago, the lyrics weren’t going to hit me as hard as they began to do later on.
“Sorrow found me when I was young,” Berninger deadpans, as a quickly played acoustic guitar flares behind him (one of the few songs where the band still uses acoustic guitars.) “Sorrow waited; sorrow won. Sorrow—they put me on the pill. It’s in my honey, it’s in my milk.” Then, later, perhaps the lines that resonate most: “I live in a city sorrow built,” and “I don’t want to get over you.”
“Sorrow” is another song that is, like many of these, open to a lot of interpretation. It’s a little more literal than “Terrible Love”; a little more ambiguous than, say, “Bloodbuzz, Ohio,” or “Conversation 16.” The “I don’t want to get over you,” at first, lends itself to the idea of someone unwilling to get over a broken heart, or a relationship that is over. But the overarching conceit of ‘sorrow,’ specifically the idea of it finding someone when they were young, waiting, and then winning—it’s hard to shake the depressive thematic elements, and it’s hard, at least for me, not to feel particularly seen by this song. The idea, too, of not being able to get over ‘you’ is a fascinating one to dissect—as someone who has lived a bulk of the last five or six year, maybe more, in a seriously depressed place (sometimes a little better than others), it is both tough to get yourself out of it, but also, as terrible as it sounds—it’s tough to imagine yourself, at times, without it.
We’ll play nuns versus priests until somebody cries
Tapping into some of the more experimental and dissonant sounds the band would later begin to embrace on latter day albums like Sleep Well, Beast and I Am Easy to Find, “Little Faith,” one of High Violet’s moodiest and most fragmented (lyrically) songs begins with a manipulated burst of feedback, looped into a rhythm that eventually fades out and gives way to the grand, swooning arrangement of the song—though it does return at the end, to bring things to a cyclical conclusion. Perhaps the most evocative, or at least one of the most evocative, when it comes to the song’s imagery, Berninger paints dark pictures of a rainy New York City, and returns to the repeated line, “We’ll play nuns versus priests”; first, until somebody wins—later, until somebody cries.
Starting with “Afraid of Everyone,” the album, really, hits its stride, and there are no ‘bad’ songs or even skippable tracks from there until the end. “Afraid of Everyone,” most literally, is a look at the anxiety that comes from being a parent: “With my kid on my shoulders I try not to hurt anybody I like,” and “I’ll defend my family with my orange umbrella.” The idea of color is important to “Afraid of Everyone”—the manipulated, echoing outro of “Yellow voices swallowing my soul,” becomes hypnotic and dizzying, and the song also finds itself returning to similar places explored briefly on both “Sorrow” and “Terrible Love”—the ability, or inability, of coping: “I don’t have the drugs to sort it out.”
If “Terrible Love,” right from the get go, is the album’s moment of explosive catharsis, and if the closing piece, “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” is a contemplative, somber time for release, splitting the difference is “Bloodbuzz, Ohio,” the album’s rollicking, bombastic first single, issued two months ahead of the album. It’s triumphant in ways that are difficult to describe, and it captures a bittersweet longing and wistfulness that the band really hasn’t been able to recreate (and maybe they specifically have not tried to recreate) in the decade that has followed.
Dressed up in some fancy, hazy metaphors, “Bloodbuzz, Ohio” is, at its core, a song about reflecting on where you are from, originally. There is a minor debate about if The National are a ‘Brooklyn band,’ since that is where the group reconnected and actually ‘formed,’ or if they are an ‘Ohio band,’ since that is where all five members are actually from. The imagery of New York appears in Berninger’s lyrics more often than that of the Midwest, but occasionally, the group does look back further and reference the place it is originally from.
Set against the frenetic, sharp pounding of drummer Bryan Devendorf, and huge stabs at the piano, with an undercurrent of guitar feedback running throughout a bulk of it, “Bloodbuzz, Ohio” is not a ‘happy’ song, despite how enormous it sound; but it’s also not a ‘sad’ one either. It is simply a song about reflecting. “I never thought about love when I thought about home,” Berninger deadpans in the refrain, or the infamous, “I was carried to Ohio in a swarm of bees. I never married, but Ohio don’t remember me.”
It takes me a day to remember a day I didn’t mean to let it get so far out of hand
“Lemonworld,” both is and is not a real place and the album, at one time, and maybe this is just a joke—but before the title High Violet was decided upon, the band says the album was going to be called Summer Lovin’ Torture Party, which is both an incredible phrase turn, but also the kind of album title that leaves one wondering if it should be taken seriously or not.
Structurally, High Violet retreats inward, slightly, after the explosive pomp and bombast of “Bloodbuzz, Ohio,” with two of its more reserved sounding songs—the slowest of the slow burners, if you will—with the album’s most pensive track, “Runaway,” burning the slowest7, and with “Lemonworld” bringing things to a insular simmer.
From a production standpoint, a detail you may not notice, or may not choose to dwell upon as much as I have over the course of the last decade is the way the opening guitar strums of “Lemonworld” sound—similarly to the distorted, somewhat crude sounding opening to “Terrible Love,” “Lemonworld” is very similar in its usage of a distended sounding guitar, rattling and creaking through your speakers or headphones, until the drums literally come tumbling in, and the second guitar (much cleaner sounding) twinkles and shimmers over it all.
I think that I was always intrigued by “Lemonworld,” both musically, but also lyrically, right from the beginning, but I think that early on, it wasn’t one of the songs on the album that I felt partially ‘seen’ by.
“Lemonworld” is about a lot, or a the very least, there’s a lot going on.
In interviews about the song, Berninger retreats back to a borderline misogynistic8 place of saying his wife, and his wife’s sister, are close in age, and are both ‘smart, sexy’9 women; and that the ‘Lemonworld’ is a ‘weird, sexy place’ one can go to in order to escape New York—hence the song’s refrain: “You and your sister live in a Lemonworld; I want to sit in and die.”
There are moments, though, as the song continues to tumble and unfold, when it is about other things too, or at least Berninger’s use of vague imagery allows one to, if it applies, see themselves in it, and see it for more than just a ‘dirty’ song’10 about his wife and sister-in-law.
“This pricey stuff makes me dizzy—I guess I’ve always been a delicate man. It takes me a day to remember a day I didn’t mean to let it get so far out of hand. I was a comfortable kid, but I don’t think about it much anymore….,” Berninger mumbles, letting his words unfurl almost breathlessly on top of the driving rhythm of the music. And it’s that passage that, over time, really began to stick with me, and one that I started to identify with more and more—or at least with specific parts of it, like the idea of being almost unable to recall a day when ‘it’ hadn’t gotten so far out of hand.
The ‘it,’ of course, in this case (my case) is debilitating depression.
Over time, as Berninger began to drop the heavy, fragmented imagery and very hyper-literate metaphors, and things became a little easier to access or identify with—that is when I start to see more and more of myself in National songs.
Even if the ‘it’ he is specifically talking about is something else entirely, this is where I have taken the ‘it’—to a place where it is difficult for me to recall a time when things, for me, emotionally, had not gotten so far out of hand.
Was I a comfortable kid?
I don’t think about that much anymore.
If High Violet ends with a big, final, grand moment of resolution (albeit a little uncertain) in the form of “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks,” the last gasp of bombast comes right before it, in “England.”
“England,” in a sense, is both a companion piece to “Terrible Love,” in the way that they both continue to build to something much larger than anticipated, and are structured around the repetition of a specific series of lyrics, or phrases, turning the song into more than a song—into an anthem; it’s also an antithesis to “Vanderlyle.” They’re both enormous, but just enormous for different reasons, and in different ways.
Opening with already grandiose, swooning piano chords, “England” begins it steep climb with a low, rumbling string accompaniment and guitar plucks laying the foundation for the song’s dreamy, gauzy pacing, as Berninger begins mumbling his shadowy, despondent phrases, that only grow increasingly more so as the song reaches its peak.
Like a number of the songs on High Violet, “England,” lyrically, is open to a lot of interpretation—it has not been annotated, or even really explained via interview snippets, on Genius, but the consensus is that it’s about the end of a relationship, and the protagonist’s inability to move on. “Can someone send a runner for the feeling that I lost today?,” Berninger asks before the ‘pre-chorus’ arrives. “You just be somewhere in London. You must be loving your life in the rain,” he continues, sounding dejected.
And that dejection creates the dichotomy that brings the song to its breaking point. The music continues to swell, but Berninger, as a singer, never really leaves his comfortable place of lowly, sadly, mumbling song song’s lyrics, until, with a brassy fanfare, “England” reaches its cacophonic peak: musically it goes for broke, continuing to grow and grow until it just simply cannot anymore, and the lyrics, how shouted in a strained voice, become another element that the listener gets caught up in: “Afraid of the house, stay the night with the sinners…Afraid of the house, ‘cause they’re desperate to entertain!”
Whether intentional or not, throughout the band’s career, they’ve done an excellent job at creating memorable opening and closing11 tracks—and with the way High Violet is bookended with these emotional moments, it does lend itself to the argument that structurally, this is their finest work to date.
“Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks,” yes, it has a title that is difficult to take seriously. But from the instant it opens with a sweep of low, somber piano and strings, the title takes a backseat to the beauty they have packed into the song, letting it slowly unfurl. It is, without a doubt, the album’s most objectively heartbreaking, beautiful moment—and perhaps one of the finest songs in the band’s catalog.
Like the song that came before it, the meaning to “Vanderlyle” is open to a lot of interpretation; in an interview snippet regarding the song, Berninger said the word ‘Vanderlyle’ was something he took a long time to come up with, and was trying to find a word that struck him as much as the word ‘Pennyroyal’ did in the title to the Nirvana song “Pennyroyal Tea”—and sounded somewhat similar. Vanderlyle is, apparently, a character, and lyrically, the song seems to unfold around this protagonist, and he is, by all accounts, unfazed by water rising12 around him, among other things.
It, too, like so many other songs on High Violet that rise higher than anticipated, incorporates the usage of repetition of a phrase, turning an expression into a mantra; here, it’s the alluring, somber line, “All the very best of us string ourselves up for love,” as well as Berninger’s assurance that he’ll ‘explain everything to the geeks.’
Who are the geeks? What is the ‘everything’ that needs to be explained? Who is Vanderlyle and what is he crying about? There are a lot of unanswered questions as the album concludes and I don’t think any of these question are meant to really be answered. It’s the kind of moment that’s left purposefully vague, with lyrics that are razor sharp in their literacy. Musically, it swoons in a way that we as listeners do not deserve, creating a kind of gentle epilogue to the album that is not as visceral as, say, the conclusion to Alligator, or as unassuming and reserved as the ending to Boxer.
It’s just a stunning, twinkling moment of brief reassurance.
I’ll explain everything to the geeks.
I have my head in the oven, so you’ll know where I’ll be
An anecdote I used to tell, but no longer really do, involves a time when my wife had to, more or less, apologize for my behavior in a small social situation. This took place, like, 12 or 13 years ago, before we were even married, and it happened when we were meeting others for breakfast at an IHOP. The context—like, the entirety of the story is maybe not as important as I used to make it out to be, but the punchline is this: before we left the restaurant, I went to use the bathroom to wash my hands. While I was gone, my wife’s friend pulled her aside and whispered, “Is Kevin okay? He seems more caustic than usual today.”
My wife just sighed and simply said, “He’s just really tired.”
That was the joke, for a long time—that I was just ‘really tired.’ Sometimes I am actually tired.
Sometimes I am just an asshole and someone else has to cover for me.
The funny thing about “Conversation 16” is that in an interview with guitarist Bryce Dessner, he alleges that Matt Berninger is really a fun and light-hearted guy, and that he became self-conscious about the group being taken so seriously—the reason for which, or at least an example of it, are the lyrics to this song—specifically the line about eating another person’s brains.
It is, of course, not meant to be taken literally.
“Conversation 16” struck me the very first time I heard it—and it struck me hard. It was the first time that I felt truly seen and attacked—like, 100% seen and attacked, by a National song (it’s since happened countless other times over the last decade.) And in all the times that I saw a partial reflection of myself within the band’s lyrics, or found a small portion of something I could identify with…this was the moment when it was both laughable, and kind of upsetting, just how accurate of a portrait of myself I was hearing.
“It’s a Hollywood summer,” Berninger deadpans at the beginning of the song’s second verse, backed by a jittery, snarling, effected guitar chug that runs through nearly the entirely of “Conversation 16,” as well as skittering, sharp percussion, and myriad other instrumentation dumped into the arrangement, including ethereal backing vocals, a mixture of wood winds and brass, as well as strings. “You’ll never believe the shitty thoughts I think”—and it’s there, right there, that moment in the song, that stopped me in my tracks a decade ago, as I saw a stark reflection of myself within the song. “Meet our friends out for dinner—when I said what I said, I didn’t mean anything,” he continues. “We belong in a movie; try to hold it together until our friends are gone. We should swim in a fountain—I do not want to disappoint anyone.”
Because maybe we’ve all been there? Or at the very least, I have. Like how, in the last decade, I have seen monstrous, awful parts of myself in other National songs—the unflinching, depressive lyrics to “Pink Rabbits,” or the domestic scenes gone awry in “Nobody Else Will Be There” and “Guilty Party,” or the lies we tell ourselves to dilute the problem and the questions that it makes one ask in “Hairpin Turns.”
We’ve all had to hold it together until the dinner is over, or the guests leave. And if you’re like me, maybe sometimes you can’t even wait until the coast is clear; if you’re like me, you excuse yourself to the other room (sometimes, more than once) and hope nobody notices you are literally falling apart.
The band’s bleak humor arrives in the line, “I was afraid that I’d eat your brains—‘cause I’m evil.” There’s the way Berninger holds the word ‘evil’ that doesn’t give it a menacing characteristic, but there is something terrible and desperate and sad about it. And he isn’t going to really eat anybody’s brains, but the entire conceit of “Conversation 16” is that he is the less delightful to be around out of him and his wife Carin Besser (who, for a long time now, has helped contribute lyrics and is often credited as a co-writer); the conceit is—and this is how I used to describe this song to people, in a better effort to explain what I liked about it so much: the song’s protagonist is an asshole, and he’s worried he’s, over time, going to turn his partner into an asshole too.
The mixture of self deprecation and dark humor lingers into the final verse of “Conversation 16.” “I'm a confident liar,” Berninger, sounding unconvinced of this, proclaims. “I have my head in the oven, so you know where I’ll be. I try to be more romantic—I want to believe in everything you believe,”13 before ending with a call back to a line tucked into the song: “You’re the only thing I ever want anymore,” which is perhaps, one of the most double-edged lyrics within the entire album.
It’s sweet, yes; but it’s also so fucking sad.
But we’ve all been there.
At the very least, I have.
High Violet, a decade later, as aged about as finely and gracefully as an album recorded after the indie rock bubble of the late 2000s had burst can age. It wasn’t ever ‘perfect,’ but it was so very close, and it is still that album now. It’s one of those very rare albums that makes such an impact, both on the career of the band, and its listeners—for the band, it was the raucous conclusion of one phase of their career, where The National and found an audience, and finally become confident and comfortable with who they were as performers and songwriters. It’s not a ‘relaxed’ album by any means, but it’s their most assured. They had grown out of their youthful restlessness and nervy anxieties, and in this moment, landed on something that represented that time and that space—and it only found them, in the years to come growing into a different, elder kind of restlessness and creative anxiety that has kept them shifting in their sound.
For the listener? Like me—it’s the kind of important album (like Alligator and Boxer before it) that I have carried with me through time. It’s grown with me, and I have grown with it, and into it, more and more. While it is a smart enough record to be the kind of thing you can take with you, and bend it to fit in the constraints of your life at any given moment, it is also the kind of thing that was so impactful a decade ago that I, upon revisiting, realize how many memories of a very specific time and place, and of specific people, I still have connected to it. It’s not nostalgia, it's not a kind of wistful longing—but it’s something very close to all of that, and borderline bittersweet.
But that is growing up—adulthood, isn’t it?
And in the end, that’s what High Violet is about.
1- This is an aside that’s just too complicated to work into a poorly written thinkpiece about a National album being a decade old. From 2008 to 2009, I was an ‘Americorps Promise Fellow’ at a youth-run youth center in town, called The Northfield Union of Youth. It was a strange, difficult year for a number of reasons, and at one point last year, I tried to reflect on it, and write about my experiences and how that year really informed a lot of the rest of my life to come, but I got in way over my head almost immediately and I bailed on the piece. It was a terrible, unforgiving job, but it was one of those jobs where I really pushed myself and learned a lot about myself, and a decade later, was told that I had more than likely probably made a difference, even in some small ways, in the lives of some teenagers.
2- Clarifying point: I was courageous enough with the help of a woman who worked at the radio station at the time who I had struck up a friendship with, and she became somewhat of a mentor, in a weird way, while I worked there. It is worth mentioning that our friendship completely fell apart at some point in 2012, for reasons I don’t really understand. But it’s probably for the best because she could be a really, really toxic person.
3- Quick aside: it was either a downloadable mp3 that was hosted by a music news site, or it was available in exchange for an email address, from the band themselves.
4- I, for some reason, perhaps youthful hubris, took great pride in playing this song on my show before it had even been played on 89.3 The Current—they very popular public radio station basted out of St.Paul.
5- I have also famously mentioned this quote in pieces written about Alligator and Boxer.
6- Clarifying point: feeling ‘seen’ and ‘attacked’ is an ‘internet thing.’
7- An aside: I didn’t intend to not talk about “Runaway,” but the way this portion of the essay came together, it seemed like it wasn’t going to work to shoehorn it in once I found a very logical and overdramatic section break. “Runaway” is a fine song. It’s the album’s slowest song, but it’s an important song to the band—they opened every live show between 2009 and 2010 with it. The imagery is powerful and the music really simmers and slowly turns around you. It does, because of its tempo and the way it broods, bring the pacing of the record down just slightly.
8- There is some concern, or at least there has been in the past, about the questionable lyrics that get tossed into National songs. My wife, specifically, at one time, had a problem with the ‘Fuck me and make me a drink,’ line in “Karen.” “Lemonworld,” or at least what it’s about doesn’t go that far, but it does give reason for pause.
9- His words, not mine. This is from an interview that I read at one point.
10- Matt Berninger described this once as a ‘dirty’ song about his wife when introducing it at a live show, if I recall.
11- The strength and thought of the band’s choice in opening and closing tracks on a bulk of their albums seems almost deliberate. Like it’s maybe too clever or smart for its own good at times.
12- There are two flooding/water rising references on High Violet; the other is in “Runaway.”
13- This line has come to mean more to me as of late.
The original pressing of High Violet, as a 2xLP, never went out of print and is readily available; the album is being reissued as an expanded anniversary edition with a third LP that includes the bonus material from the ‘deluxe edition’ from late 2010, set to arrive in either late June, or late August.