Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Reviews:: The National Boxer

Without a doubt, the new the National record is my most anticipated release of the year. When you consider how many artists are putting out records in ‘07 that says a lot. I’ve always been intrigued by Matt Berninger's style. Every time I listen to his lyrics, I think of those classic American writers like Hemmingway. Their stories of failed love, self reflection and alcohol were limited by page counts and commas. Matt’s on the other hand are limited by adding a chorus, but both toe the line between genius and pretentious asshole perfectly, and draw inspiration from single moments. These events come to life under reflection and depict a scene that keeps you reading, or in this case listening. It also helps that The National is made up of great musicians who play together perfectly.

It’s tough to follow up a record like Alligator. It was critically acclaimed, and continually obsessed about for the last two years. There’s not a bad song on it. I can put that CD on at anytime, press play and thoroughly enjoy the experience, so for the first time, The National is faced with some pressure with the release.

Boxer – which I know is not due out until much later this year, but the internet is what it is – doesn’t disappoint. It’s not as top to bottom rock solid as Alligator, but the band took some big risks and proves why they are one of the best indie rock outfits in the US. The off kilter simple piano riff of Fake Empire supports Matt’s all American lyrics, and slowly the band adds instrument after instrument, culminating with the beautifully mastered drum sound. The hits on the snare ring out like a machine gun, and start the band breaking into a fleshed out sound that showcases the band’s ability to write a great song. Even as the song progresses, the band continues to play with the mix, adding horns and viola parts that fit seamlessly and flow into Mistaken for Strangers. The spastic drum fills and fuzzed out guitars really start the record off strongly.

It’s hard to try to dissect the songs individually, because the record works so well as a complete package. The record takes a much darker sound, and it seems the band went for more subtly and experiments with a slower tempo (with more drums), avoiding the melodic hooks that dotted the landscape of Alligator. I also think the slower tracks are the strongest on this record. The methodical pace of Start a War fits perfectly with the draining emotion Matt presents. Holding onto a relationship is exhausting, and you really feel that when you hear Matt claim, “I’ll get money, I’ll get funny again.” If they only stick it out, they can find that happiness they once had.

Green Gloves glides, and you can imagine the band sitting around an apartment working out the arrangement and harmonies on this song and the vibe continues with the shaker/acoustic backbone of Slow Show. The slow build of Ada is breath taking, and the swells of horns sounds great, but the band treats the song like a jockey pacing a horse that wants to run. Instead of breaking into full stride, they control the ebbs and flows nicely. The record ends as strongly as it starts with the orchestral sounds of Gospel. Gentle strums of an acoustic, piano and soft kick drum beat and some nice backing vocals close the album like a great ending in a novel. You simply close the cover and feel a sense of satisfaction as you put it back on your shelf.

I know this might sound boring, but as the album progresses I actually find myself really getting swept up with the slower tempo. Like any great writer moving forward onto a new book, the goal is not simply to tell another similar story (unless you are a Grisham), but to improve in your eyes and in the eyes of your fans. I can’t see the members of the National content to keep moving along the same path, and that shows on this record. Sure, the vocal themes are still similar, especially Matt’s tendency to write obscure sexually laced passages (Guest Room) and express raw desires, but I am pretty sure people who fell in love with the last record and wanted another recreation will be left disappointed. For those who want to keep seeing the band grow, this record like a lot of the tracks, will be a slow burn that keeps you warm.

MP3:: Fake Empire

Posted at 4:43 PM by ack :: 0 comments

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