The National - Boxer
Record Label: Beggars Banquet Records
Release Date: May 22, 2007
Matt Berninger, lead-singer of the Brooklyn-based band The National, met fellow band mate, Scott Devendorf while attending the University of Cincinnati in the early 1990s. The two of them formed a band named after Berninger's mother, Nancy, that was heavily influenced by Pavement, fronted by one of indie rock's icons, Stephen Malkmus. I can only assume that even though both of those projects eventually dissolved, Berninger held onto at least some of the inspiration that he felt from Malkmus and Pavement as his then new project, The National, started up. In the year before The National formed, Malkmus was apart of Silver Jews, who released their third effort American Water. The first track off of that album, "Random Rules," opens up with the line, "In 1984, I was hospitalized for approaching perfection." While this connection may be a stretch, and more of a coincidence than a connection at all, The National have spent the last decade doing just that. They are one of the rare few who have improved with every release and every release has been damn good.
2007's effort Boxer is no exception. It's another album that consists of vocals and lyrics, from Berninger, that are about as good as it gets, backed by the wonderful instrumentation of two sets of brother; Scott and Bryan Devendorf and Aaron and Bryce Dessner. If Berninger's voice isn't the highlight of the album, then it is probably what will draw somebody in. His unique voice and delivery, matched with his outstanding lyrics, can be the main focus for a few listens, but as you grow accustomed to it, and not in a way that suggests that you grow tired of it, there is so much more to appreciate. The musicianship of the two sets of brothers compliments and works perfectly with what Berninger has to offer. It is also something that can be appreciated on its own. It's just beautiful, from the drums to the stringed instruments to the use of the brass ones. The subtleties of it all makes for great lasting value, because there's the opportunity to hear and appreciate something new with each listen.
Boxer starts out incredibly strong with "Fake Empire." It uses Berninger's voice and a piano to draw you into the album within the first 45 seconds of the song. After it has drawn you in, it keeps you engaged. It's difficult to highlight very many standout tracks in the album, because there isn't a bad song and they all work so well together to build such a strong whole. "Fake Empire" is a standout track and if you listen on, you'll find another in "Slow Show" a few tracks later. "Slow Show" is a perfect example of one of the reasons why The National are so good. The song ends with Berninger taking a line or two and repeating it with slight variations, but keeping each line as fresh and hard hitting as the first one with his delivery.
The lasting value of The National and Boxer truly is extraordinary, and I say this as somebody who listens to at least one album from The National almost everyday. They draw you in and keep you engaged throughout the album as they spill themselves out to you, giving you a mixture of emotions to interpret and feel as you listen. It isn't sad and it isn't happy, it's a perfectly designed mixture of the two that will probably put you somewhere in between. This is an album that requires as many listens as you're willing to give it. I know that I've enjoyed it more and more as I've listened to it more and more. It is a great effort from a band that will be remembered as one of this generation's greats.