I was lucky enough to get a chance to listen to this album a few times before it was released on the New York Times website and I felt like it just wasn't the kind of album a band like The National would make. It sounded too mellow and understated for a band who's known for being a stadium rock band with no stadium.
Fortunately I took my chances, went ahead and picked up the album when it was released, and after a few more listens I think I finally got it. They don't seem to be interested in yelling or even grumbling about the way things are going. With the weight of a few more years behind them, the lyrics and the music now turn to an acceptance of the way things are and possibly even an embrace.
This means that instead of Matt Berringer screaming "I won't F--- us over" we hear him quietly reflecting "Sorrow waited, sorrow won". It's a sad line, but it's sung in such a way that makes it seem like he's accepted the sorrow of life and has learned to see its beauty. This also means that the guitar parts have been scaled back to create quiter sonic surfaces like the ones on the aforementioned "Sorrow" (my favourite track on the album) or on "Conversation 16" where you can just barely hear the strumming in the background, but you can fully understand how it lends itself to the lyrics.
High Violet is probably not one of the years greatest albums. The albums tone is too narrow to appeal to a wide array of people. But in the right setting, under the right mood, the album couldn't be more perfect.