First Listen: The National, 'High Violet'

For The National's Matt Berninger, personal demons often take on literal forms. "It's a terrible love and I'm walking with spiders." "I was carried to Ohio in a swarm of bees." "I was afraid I'd eat your brains, 'cause I'm evil." Berninger's deep, deadpan baritone, when dressed up in intricately lovely arrangements, can make The National's music seem remote at times. But his words are the stuff of blood and guts; the stuff of emotions so powerful, they're downright gruesome.

No mere navel-gazer, Berninger knows how to enshroud his gloomy observations in mystery and nuance, and he's surrounded by music that broods and swells at all the right times. EPs and an odds-and-ends collection aside, High Violet is The National's fifth album, and it spends a good deal of time gently roughing up the glimmering beauty of its divine predecessor, Boxer. But the new record still achieves the balance that's made the band so widely beloved: It locates the sweet spot between majesty and mopery, catharsis and wallowing, soaring grace and wounded confessionals.

Formed in Cincinnati and based in Brooklyn, N.Y., The National finds Berninger collaborating with two pairs of brothers: Aaron and Bryce Dessner (both guitarists, with Aaron also playing piano) and Scott and Bryan Devendorf (on bass and drums, respectively). High Violet, their first new studio album in three years, will stream here in its entirety until its release on May 11. Please leave your thoughts on the album in the comments section below.

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