Beggars Banquet Records 2007
By John Hastings
If you really want to get the most out of The National’s new album Boxer, then wait for the darkest, rainiest, and most somber night of the summer and take a drive in the country. This disc just oozes back roads and dashboard lights and is tailor-made for an evening when you need to clear your head. Take the wheel and prepare yourself for one of the best rock releases of 2007 thus far.
The National have kicked around for a few years now, and their 2005 release Alligator had rock-snobs slavering for a couple of months. With the release of Boxer, this Brooklyn-based rock quintet has broken into the mainstream. Singer Matt Berninger’s voice is a deep, resounding baritone that you’ll not forget and the band layers its guitars and percussion beautifully on this album. While Berninger’s voice is a constant, the tracks change gears from hard-paced and drum-driven to soft and melodic without a slip in style or substance. Don’t bother trying to find a weak song here — there simply isn’t one. From the opening “Fake Empire,” we’re tossed into a darkly harmonic world of solemnity that somehow doesn’t drag us down. Instead, there’s an air of nonchalance, a feeling of acceptance that transcends the evils of war and the trials of lost love. It’s captured lyrically on the track “Racing Like A Pro” when Berninger croons “Your mind is racing like a pro, now/ Oh my God it doesn’t mean a lot to you.”
To say that any one or two tracks off Boxer is a standout is pointless and untrue. This disc is simply awesome from start to finish and there really is no in-between. You may want to check out “Ada” first, if only to hear Sufjan Stevens sitting in on the piano, or perhaps “Mistaken For Strangers,” if something a little more up-tempo gets you into new albums faster. Bryan Devendorf’s drumming is spectacular on this album and simply drives the fourth track “Squalor Victoria” so that we want to join The National and “Raise our heavenly glasses to the heavens!” Drums also loom large in “Apartment Story” and we tap our fingers off the steering wheel while Berninger proclaims “Tired and wired we ruin too easy/ sleep in our clothes and wait for winter to leave.” It’s a good thing winter’s over so that summer nights in 2007 can be filled with the sounds of The National doing their thing, and doing it oh so well.
Fans of Interpol and The Arcade Fire should find The National easily accessible. If you’ve never heard this band before then give Boxer the solid listen it deserves, preferably at night, in a car somewhere. Though Berninger sings “You could drive a car through my head in five minutes,” this album merits a road trip of its own. If you don’t have a car, a bus ride will do just fine, or even a walk around the neighbourhood. Happy late dark listening, stranger!