3. The National — Boxer
So now we are into the Top 3 of 2007. The big boys. The albums that I cannot speak objectively about. The albums that I know every note and word to every song (in some cases, even backwards...) The National's Boxer is one of these albums, my #3 album of 2007, but it very easily could have replaced the two that are ahead of it. Eric (who turns green — — below my entry) has his own ideas about who should hold the #3 spot, and today I must say that I can't really disagree with him. Go see who he's talking about over here.
Boxer sees The National really reigning in their talent for slick, precise musicianship, here favoring subtle, and often hidden, melodies that only fully unravel after several listens. In many ways, it's an album that plays a lot like Grizzly Bear's 2006 LP, Yellow House. It underwhelms you at first and then moves you like you've never been moved before five or six listens in.
Gone are lead singer Matt Berninger's trademark vocal explosions that made 2005's Alligator such a memorable record. Instead, on Boxer Berninger maintains his silky baritone voice throughout the entire sitting, forfeiting the role of pathos-piling to brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner and Bryan and Scott Devendorf, whose deft instrumentation is remarkable. Listen to this album a few times, and note how the pace of your heart rate begins to increase as songs like "Mistaken For Strangers" and "Squalor Victoria" approach their termination points — that's when The National switch on all the tracks, turn up the drums and let the songs reach their ultimate climax.
Berninger also continues to prove his worth as a lyricist, penning songs that, like on Alligator feel distinctly blue collar American, and cover wide variety of approaches. There's the understated, self-deprecating humor of "Slow Show," where he sings "You could drive a car through my head for five minutes from one side of it to the other;" the subtle political commentary on the album's opener when he announces during the song's quiet refrain "We're half awake in a fake empire;" and the introspective (yet universal) analysis of "Apartment Story," where Berninger beautifully illustrates the conundrum of living in an increasingly tech-centered world — "I'm getting tired/I'm forgetting why/Tired and wired, we ruin too easy..."
Boxer does not have emotional rockers like "Abel" or "Mr. November," which for many fans probably represent the best songs the band's recorded to date. But what it does have is a commitment excellent musical arrangement (see the gorgeous and simple "Start a War" and the Sufjan Stevens-assisted "Ada") and an emotional unity that unifies the entire record. A few years ago, I drove through a real Florida hurricane so The National could blow my ears off with faithful renditions of their songs from Alligator. Today, their concerts are quieter affairs, as they've infused their energetic live sets with material from Boxer. But their restraint here is part of what makes Boxer so magical, and it leaves us wondering which direction they will choose next.
© ScooterDMan 2007 for LISTEN IN. Some rights reserved.