The National’s Boxer

GATW Guest Writer

by: GATW Guest Writer
November 15th, 2007


The National is a unique band to follow.  Rarely can the listener trace a band as they develop and hear them trying to find their voice.  These guys are with out a doubt one of the hardest working groups out right now.  From less than thrilling record sales and concert attendance to no quite developing a sound that clicked as a whole, The Nationals' career so far has not been one to envy.  

Around 2005, they started to get more attention with the album, Alligator, and the song that brought them some attention, Mr. November.  This song is a glimpse to where they were going as far as a signature sound was concerned.  New York appeared to be wanting to keep The National a secret that only the locals and adventurous music enthusiasts knew about until Clap Your Hands Say Yeah came around and challenged the nations' art center.  

Armed with tour dates, Clap You Hands... sought to battle New York and expose The National once and for all.  The tour proved that people did want to know this band and were eager to see where they would go.  Finally Alligator was getting noticed and America had their underdog band.  

Against all odds, The National went back into the studio to create another album.  Something was different this time somehow because when Boxer was released in May of 2007, fans witnessed a monumental feat in creating music: the band had their own, original voice! Boxer is an album for everyday life.  In no way does it try to cover up the fact that life is hard, but it does show a few gleaming glimpses into an optimistic future.  Musically, this album is rich in piano, guitar, bass, drums, and arrangements of brass and strings.  Amazingly, the arrangements sound as if they were written for those particular instruments. The brass lines are melodic and rhythmically precise and the string arrangements are lyrical and flowing.  

Matthew Berninger's deep, rhythmically imprecise vocal style is soothing, yet haunting, similar to Johnny Cash's bass voice.  His lyrics are sometimes conversational, sometimes epic, but always poetic.  Berninger's way of writing is a very personal one that seems to expose everything he and the band is and provides insight into their passion as a whole.  Boxer as an entirety rivals other indie masterpieces such as Interpol's Turn On the Bright Lights, with the darkly hypnotic, catchiness that has been a signature feeling with many New York indie acts.  As generic as it may sound, The National breaks out of that brooding tone in many of the tracks that offers a patch of light in much of the darkness that is Boxer.  

Listening to the entire album reveals that the songs are somewhat operatic in form in that Berninger's conversational tone is his version of a recitative and the shift to a melodically driven vocal line is as impassioned as an aria.  While Boxer is easy to listen to, it doesn't imply that it has no substance. The band's unique way of layering musical ideas is more from the American classical music tradition rather than purely rock.  From the opening track, Fake Empire, to the closing, Gospel, this album has a way of grabbing you and not letting go until it has told you its story and you'll be captivated the whole time.  

This has to be one of the most beautiful and artistic indie releases in quite some time.

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