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The National: High Violet (4AD) 

Success and fatherhood have done nothing to ease Matt Berninger's fears about finding his way. But by continuing to explore those fears with an ever-greater artistic command, Berninger and The National have reached new heights, with an intense and radiant fifth album.

High Violet is a sort of distilled passion, burning with intimacy and vivid in its celebration of both disorientation and comfort. It's the sound of a band at its peak, tight and confident as they deliver a masterpiece.

Berninger again plays the philosopher-as-everyman, harshly honest with a deep, brooding baritone that owns every pang of sorrow, loneliness and doubt that blanket the band's new record.

The National has clearly settled into a sound all its own, dark and deep, but richly textured with the right flourishes at the right time, and shifts that give the songs new energy. That High Violet is executed with an even more cinematic elegance than the band's highly acclaimed Boxer and Alligator albums is a stunning feat.

Lyrically, Berninger seems to turn around with a new question for each answer he's found. At times, it sounds like the nearly crippling doubt of a man uncertain in his own hopes, even before they're spoken aloud.

High Violet is an album that explores the frayed and ever-shifting edges of identity. It conveys that constant sense of coming undone in the midst of the hectic world—and those moments of clarity when it suddenly becomes easy to lift yourself above it all. It's a step-by-step dance between anxiety and catharsis.

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