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Friday, June 29, 2007

REVIEW The National - Boxer

Peripatetic Ponderings

I like to walk at night because it affords me the best time to truly listen to music. It forces me to focus on a given recording, usually from start to finish uninterrupted. I also like to listen old school with my Sony Discman and a fresh battery recharge. (My Ipod is just far too tempting to my musical ADD tendencies.) Compulsions aside, I couldn’t tell you much about that night I walked with Boxer, the new recording by Brooklyn, New York’s
the National. Suffice to say I was not run over by a car as I wandered in my aural stupor, nor did I get lost. Figuratively speaking though… Well, that’s another story entirely.

“Fake Empire” (download here) begins the disc in a flurry of piano notes, with vocalist Matt Berninger dropping unfussy observations about “making pies” and putting a “little something in the lemonade”. Like an affable drunk offering the best tidbits of life to a lonely bar room he draws you into his melancholic world. Anyone else attempting this would sound contrived and forced, the National simply make it sound natural. Songs like “Slow Show” and “Start a War” reveal a palpable intensity so rarely felt on contemporary recordings. Boxer reminded me a lot of R.E.M.’s Reckoning because of its style and the feeling it evokes. Like R.E.M.’s opus this is a record that will stick with you for quite some time. Songs like “Squalor Victoria” and the Sufjan Stevens guested “Ada”, merely seal the deal.

This record had me from the start; the effort is top-notch. Comprised of two sets of brothers—Bryce and Aaron Dessner, Scott and Bryan Devendorf—and the aforementioned Matt Berninger (plus sometime member Padma Newsom) the National are truly hitting their stride in 2007. The group met in their native Cincinnati in the early 1990s, then moved to Brooklyn, New York Following three releases on indie label Brassland Records, the band made the leap to the Beggars Group in 2005 with the sublime Alligator, an album filled with dark lyrics and song cycles that really paved the way for Boxer's successful path. Boxer is that rare record I have been waiting for that truly captivates as much as it entertains. It will no doubt feature prominently on my Year End List. It is a special recording that demands your attentions. Seek it out, you won't be disappointed.

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