By Allison Stewart
Brooklyn band the National has been overpraised and under-famous since the release of 2007's "Boxer," which did well enough to suggest a move from underground stardom to the actual kind was there for the asking. If their placeholder of a new disc, "High Violet," is any indication, the National is content to stay where it is.
"Boxer" was depressive and baroque, informed by the back catalogues of shoe gazers and sad-sack Brits like Joy Division and Echo and the Bunnymen. "High Violet" is less of the same. It dials down its predecessor's charms, dispenses with most of its hooks and build-and-release tension, and, lest you think the National was tempted by that whole indie superstardom business, rubs the whole thing with a thick coating of fuzz.
(Charms that reveal themselves over time, after the jump.)
It's methodical and smart, filled with inscrutable but deep-sounding ruminations on love and loss. Its twisty, intricate rhythms and lush orchestral passages would take lesser bands years to figure out. It's carefully made and entirely admirable -- and very, very dull, like an Arcade Fire album where nothing happens.
Like most National discs, its charms gradually reveal themselves over repeated listenings, although it might just be the Stockholm syndrome kicking in. How much you like the National depends on how much you're determined to like the National, a band that seems to delight in making it difficult. "High Violet" starts off almost lively but buckles under the weight of its deadeningly paced second half, enlivened only by the late-inning charmer "Conversation 16," which sounds like the theme music to a horror film starring the Cocteau Twins.
"I was afraid I'd eat your brains/'cause I'm evil," sings frontman Matt Berninger, though he doesn't sound evil at all, just enervated. By that point, you'll know just how he feels.
The National plays DAR Constitution Hall on June 6.
Recommended tracks: "Conversation 16," "Bloodbuzz Ohio"