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Album Review

National’s ‘Violet’ blossoms in layers

May 10, 2010

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It is something of a shock to look at the liner notes for the National’s fifth album and see the long list of instrumental contributors. Somehow this crowd of nearly two dozen — including the core quintet and everyone from French horn players to flutists — managed to make an album full of layers that feels incredibly spacious and a worthy successor to 2007’s critically lauded “Boxer.’’ Matt Berninger’s lugubrious, big-screen baritone, the ideal instrument for telling the moody tales of dusk and dawn, is never overwhelmed, only enhanced.

“High Violet’’ starts with the captivating murmur of “Terrible Love’’ with clattering drums and darting flute patterns conjuring a busy mind. “Sorrow’’ ticks with musical urgency but tells an incongruously morose story. Distant, scratching guitars offset by meditative strings and piano on “Little Faith’’ mimic the cranial din that often accompanies regret-filled mornings after.

The album’s wall-of-sound masterstroke comes at the midpoint with “Afraid of Everyone,’’ a manic tune that drags you along with its spooky-soulful collision of shuddering grooves, psychedelic guitar warbling, and breathless vocalizing. It’s as if the Beatles, the Flaming Lips, and Neil Young were hosting a hallucinogenic tea party.

The National continues to impress as songwriters of specificity, too, telling tales that feel granular in detail, whether they’re about romances dashed or paranoid minds blown. (Out tomorrow) SARAH RODMAN

ESSENTIAL “Afraid of Everyone’’

The National plays the House of Blues on June 2 and 3.