Saturday, February 09, 2008

The National - Boxer

The National - Boxer

Boxer (CD)– Beggars Banquet

One device The National deploy adroitly on their excellent fifth offering Boxer is the changeup. The disk’s stirring opener "Fake Empire" includes two of them. The first comes when, after drawling along to tentative piano for two verses, lead singer Matt Berninger bursts into a musical break against increasingly brisk percussion. It’s a moment that sends a pleasurable chill up your spine. The second comes at the song’s close after grungier guitars have joined the proceedings, when twirling brass close everything out. It’s a short and remarkably simple song – with just a few spare lyrics – but it illustrates what makes many of the songs here soar above their seemingly modest trappings. Listen for the subtle bassoon in "Slow Show" and wait for the surprising change in mood there, too, also signaled by melancholy piano. It’s the moment when Berninger interrupts "Ada" to address his lover in a tone that’s soft, almost pleading but doesn’t disengage from the flat dignity you typically associate with his baritone. In fact, it’s that emotional distance that contributes to the brooding atmosphere, which permeates Boxer. The terrain gets even chillier in some places: "Brainy" is a stalker song in the tradition Sting’s "Every Breath You Take." And the staccato "Mistaken for Strangers" might the most concise statement on existential isolation you’ll hear in a pop song all year. – Robert Stribley

This review was originally published in Skyscraper Magazine, Issue 26 (Fall 2007)

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