Despite their slow-and-steady climb to full-fledged musical notoriety, Brooklyn’s the National aren’t afraid to ask for help. On their latest album, ‘High Violet,’ the band put good chum Sufjan Stevens to work, just as they did on 2008’s ‘Boxer.’ The multi-instrumentalist plays harmonium and provides vocals on ‘Afraid of Everyone,’ and he even joined the band for a Letterman performance of the song last Thursday.
Stevens’ tender voice is not the only one that harmonizes with the deep, Nick Cave-esque baritone of frontman Matt Berninger. “Richard Reed Parry from Arcade Fire — you know, the really tall one with the red hair — played a bunch of stuff and sang on the album,” National bassist Scott Devendorf tells Spinner. “His dad is a choir director so Richard has this amazing sense of vocal melody and harmony. He played double bass and guitar on a couple tracks, and did some backing vocal arrangements. Incredible to work with.”
Another noteworthy guest is Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, who lends vocals to the final track on ‘High Violet,’ titled ‘Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks.’ That song, along with ‘Lemonworld,’ saw contributions from contemporary classical composer Niko Muhly, who arranged orchestration.
‘High Violet’ finds the National with an increased sense of instrumental variance beyond the flutes, trumpets and bassoons that sprinkled ‘Boxer.’ This time, Devendorf says the band was careful when mixing orchestral elements. “There’s a lot of orchestration on the record, but none of it seems unintegrated or overblown,” he says. “It’s not that the orchestration is more subtle on ‘High Violet’ than on our past albums, but it’s different this time — more ingrained with the sound overall.”
‘High Violet’ is out now via 4AD records.