Sunday, December 23, 2007

THE NATIONAL — BOXER

THE NATIONAL — BOXER

In case anyone mistook me for someone in some sort of loop, I'd like to point to The National as an example of just how far out of one I can be. Boxer is the band's 4th album in 6 years, but for months I was convinced this was one of the most impressive debuts of the year. It's hard to figure out exactly how I should reconcile reality with my own fiction.

I certainly can't compare the album with the band's previous output, since I don't have any of it. I also can't overlook them wearing their influences on their sleeves, because this is an experienced, lauded band. I also can't be as impressed with their polish for the same reason.

But there are benefits to my misconceptions. For instance, I have nothing prior to compare the band to. I can't say I'm disapointed by expectations and I'm forced to judge the album on its own terms. I don't know if the album is essential to long-time fans, but I do know that it is an impressive piece of work.

Apparently, the band has been compared to Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen, Joy Division and Wilco in the past, and they certainly evoke those comparisons here. However, finding a place where all those influences share a common crossroad is surprising. It would be easy to find locations where two or three of those meet, but all four? Admittedly, The National don't attempt that merger on every song, but they do so effortlessly on songs like Brainy and Squalor Victoria. The blend the band achieves is in creating a chamber orchestra, country cover of gothic dance beats with highly litterate lyrics repeated to find an addtional rythm track within singer Matt Berninger's deep baritone. This is So Long, Marriane for an unplugged set on the Albion/Batcave's dance floor.

Not every track is as ambitious, and some of the more traditional ballads do little to distingiush themselves, but at no point did I feel embarrassed for The National or embarrassed to be listening to them. I wish I could say the same thing for other acts that plunder the depths of musical nostalgia. The album is also overly long, and there's a fair amount of fat around the middle. It seems unnecessary for there to be 14 tracks. You could pretty much eliminate every track from Green Gloves to Guest Room (5 tracks) and you'd be left with a tighter, meatier album.

We'll see if this makes it into the Top Ten, but it's an impressive album and valuable discovery (for me) nonetheless.

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