The National | Boxer (Beggars Banquet)

cd_nationalSmall observations, self-deprecating moments (Can I get a minute of not being nervous and not thinking of my dick"), and bits of conversation fill out the rest of the lyrics, lending credence to the National's more repetitive choruses, and adding a mystery that abolishes any semblance of tedium.

 

 

 

 

It's tempting to say that the National's fourth studio album is a textbook grower that only gets better with repeat listens. Considering Matt Berninger's distinct, baritone vocals have a tendency to hinge on mumbled and the rest of the band paints a setting with new wave gloom, the ingredients are in place. However, after your first listen of Boxer, you'll already be hooked, pulled in, and gutted. Applying the perfect distribution of pop sensibilities to an amalgam of shadowy instrumentation, the National intrigue, flirt with darkness, and exit on the side of beauty. The most refreshing aspect about Boxer is in this achieved peace. Where many artists who utilize dark aesthetics lose listeners by becoming too preachy or whiny, the National know when to back off and employ an ethereal disconnect.

Boxer begins with "Fake Empire," a song truly definitive of the quintet's style. With lyrics declarative in nature yet suggestive in purpose, a piano riff builds and builds with emotion until strings and winds reach a dynamic crescendo. All the while, Berninger describes a people's (doesn‘t say who, but we can only guess) "half-awake" state in a melancholy tone. Thematically, much of the rest of the album revisits this idea of people who are emotionally vacant, or perhaps in denial. On "Mistaken for Strangers," Berninger sings that, "You get mistaken for strangers by your own friends/ When you pass them at night under silvery, silvery Citibank lights."

Small observations, self-deprecating moments (Can I get a minute of not being nervous and not thinking of my dick"), and bits of conversation fill out the rest of the lyrics, lending credence to the National's more repetitive choruses, and adding a mystery that abolishes any semblance of tedium. What Boxer comes down to, though, and why any of this is successful, is that Berninger's vocal delivery is so earnest and crisp (despite its occasional incoherence) that you have no choice but to enter his world. This, in addition to the lovely, absorbent music created by the National's dual sets of brothers, Aaron and Bryce Desner and Scott and Bryan Devendorf, whose work will inevitably, and sadly, get overlooked by Berninger's beautiful voice.

This album is undoubtedly one of those in which your favorite song changes every week. In some cases, this means that the band is just plain, but here, on the contrary, Boxer just has that many good songs. Melodically, "Fake Empire" stands out, as do the mid-album triumvirate of "Slow Show," "Apartment Story," and "Start a War." What's more is that there's no song that is going to be consistently skipped. To me, this is the mark of a band that has its own sound and purpose figured out. It took four albums for them to do so, but I believe the National are on the brink of a significant boost in recognition (I'll be preachy for them). Think of a moment when you realized that you were just living with contentment, devoid of challenge. Think of a moment when you were arguing for the sake of saving face. Think of a moment when nothing seemed to be going right. None of this matters in Boxer. Think of the big picture. A+ | Dave Jasmon

RIYL: Nick Cave, The Smiths, R.E.M. meets The Cure and Says Hello

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