Stumbling across Alligator in Fopp on a non-descript weekday afternoon in 2005 worked out to be one of the sweetest and unexpected musical highlights of the past ten years. Since then, this Brooklyn band has consistently honored that experience by confidently building on Alligator's success. 2007's Boxer raised the bar to heights that even Alligator rarely hinted at - and so, expectation was swollen and bloated beyond the humble proportions that this band cultivate. Since Boxer the Dessner brothers have proved themselves to be quite a creative force in today's industry putting out the Dark Was The Night and Long Count projects, so with all that added experience High Violet was set to be stellar.
I have to admit though to feelings of disappointment throughout many of the initial listens here. Boxer's rich soundscapes and widescreen ambition seemed to have been compromised in favor of a much more low key sound. Matt Berninger's dichotomous writing can lift you up on "A wingspan unbelievable" with confessions of inadequacy and insecurity but here seemed to fall short of those heights and feel more content to leave you wallowing. The pace also hints at this redirection of vision. Boxer was a drummers album and High Violet rarely exploits this aspect to the same extent.
But to cut a long story short, now I bloody love it. I must have had it on repeat constantly for the last week and this new direction has seeped into my soul and to this day refuses to release me. I guess a good way to describe High Violet is in depth rather than height. While Boxer could often soar, these songs bury deep and take you to much darker places and all with the same tools. The same rich pallet is employed here as it swirls and builds with intricate subtlety around Berninger's baritone hum. Having their own studio and the gift of time afforded them space to obsess over every minute of this record, but instead of suffocating under these conditions it thrives - and it takes a skilled group of musicians with enough self awareness to achieve such a result. Speaking about their approach to High Violet, Aaron Dessner says "Matt expressed a desire to hear things that "sounded like hot tar. Or loose wool." This goes some way to describe the finished product that is High Violet. Songs like Sorrow and A Little Faith drip out with such thickness that given a decent pair of headphones it's quite easy to lose yourself in their density. Anyone's Ghost and Afraid Of Everyone are hollow depictions of loneliness and isolation, while Bloodbuzz Ohio continues where the Boxer heights left us.
Seeing them on their tour of Boxer I was quite worried to witness the bloated endings that seemed to have been tacked on to most of the songs. At the tail and of the vocals the Dessners' would step forth tho the front of the stage and elevate each song to a Wilco like frenzy of feverish guitars, and it really didn't suit their style. High Violet opener Terrible Love does this too but I am very pleased to see the restraint that this album shows and it never does it again. Given their astonishing rise this band would be forgiven for letting some of it go to their heads but this record shows this not to be the case. It is a work of admirable restraint yet progressive enough to honor the memory of what's gone before.