High Violet

The National's singer Matt Berninger seems to have a thing for shouldering his burdens: in "All the Wine," from the band's 2005 record Alligator, a hymn to the narcissism and perceived invulnerability of a certain kind of young manhood ("so sorry, but the motorcade will have to go around me this time," he deadpans), he boasts that he can carry the "dollhouse safe on my shoulders." Five years and two albums later, it's his kid on his shoulders, and he's considering fending off strangers with his umbrella: "I'm afraid of everyone," he sings, "and I don't have the drugs to sort it out."


Rock music is lousy with songs that commemorate the frenzy of youth, but there are fewer records about the arguably more terrifying state of reaching full adulthood. Having chronicled his fear of artistic and romantic failure (on Alligator) and life during wartime (Boxer), High Violet finds Berninger with the same old personal instability and global fears intact, seemingly ratcheted up by having more to defend. When he says "the kids are in trouble," it turns out they have fevers that need to be iced; cities are places to haunt while wearing headphones and to flee ("leave the silver cities to all the silver girls who gave us black dreams"). Berninger's baritone warms up his chilly lyrics (some co-written with now-wife Carin Besser, until recently a fiction editor at the New Yorker), showcased against instrumentation every bit as intricate, experimental, and artful as his lyrics. Jittery, paranoid, and hauntingly beautiful, this is a record that will reward close listening for years to come.

April 23: " 'A job,' the woman repeated again, smiling, as if I hadn't heard her. 'Would you like one?' "

Kenneth Calhoun (Black Moon) and Lysely Tenorio (Monstress) of the Discover Great New Writers program on B-movies, heritage, and finales.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
A Private Venus

Dubbed "the Italian Simenon," Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969) began his crime-writing career with books set in the USA, but quickly shifted scene closer to home, the city of Milan.  In this adventure, appearing in English for the first time, his underdog hero Dr. Duca Lamberti finds himself in the middle of a seedy, scantily clad criminal racket, where the presence of an outsider could result in death.

The Promise of Hope

Killed last year in the infamous terror attack at Nairobi's Westgate mall, Kofi Awoonor was a national treasure in his native Ghana.  His career began in 1964 with Rediscovery, and this magnum opus serves as a tribute to his entire long journey charting his beloved nation's course through his accomplished poetry.

Winter Mythologies and Abbots

A pair of linked stories finds that, as translator Ann Jefferson relates, "[Pierre] Michon's great theme is the precarious balance between belief and imposture, and the way the greatest aspirations can be complicated by physical desire or the equally urgent desire for what he calls glory."