Tuesday, October 13, 2009

CD Review: THE NATIONAL - BOXER (Beggars Banquet)

Wednesday, May 09, 2007 

For several years now The National have been carving a niche for themselves on the less-hyped end of the indie-rock spectrum, often overshadowed by the bands they are occasionally reminiscent of (and, incidentally, friends with). Not afraid of getting a bit Arcade Fire-theatrical (Fake Empire), Sufjan-self-absorbed or Rapture-rhythmic, they perhaps embody a similar sound to Clap Your Hands Say Yeah though, like Arcade Fire's recent release, the ghost of The Boss looms quietly over Boxer

Full of swelling darkly urban strings (both guitar and orchestral) and muscular rhythm sections getting vaguely Albini but without straying into threatening territory, the album has a closet-style intimacy courtesy of producer Peter Katis (Interpol, the Twilight Sad, their first album Alligator, and whose wedding the cover photograph was taken at). Another great contribution comes from Australian violinist Padma Newsome's arrangements which underscore sections of songs and illustrate the band's themes of quiet anxiety, unexpressed grandiose feelings and, as they claim in interviews, serves to facilitate communication between the band members. That the band are a gang of friends (two pairs of two brothers included), all of whom moved to New York from Ohio around the same time adds a sense of warm looseness to the album which is invaluable in preventing many of the songs from disappearing into style-over-substance territory that so much from New York is prone to.

The melodious mumbling of lead vocalist Matt Berninger work well in accentuating the production's strengths, and suits the confessional-style lyrics. It's this intimacy and the lethargic, impassioned delivery that will endear it to some people and make others not care to give the album the time it deserves to reveal it's gifts. The opening track and single Fake Empire is at once humble and profound with a wonderful use of dynamics (which are essential given Berninger's baritone-style) and Racing Like A Pro on which Sufjan Stevens' makes a barely audible guest appearance is genuinely powerful in it's lack of emotion. An interesting and multi-layered release that may well be a sleeper like their debut and a thrill to see rendered live.

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