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LITERATURE

 » Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]

MUSIC

 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]

MUSIC

 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
»Deerhunter
Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
»Robyn
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Lisbon
Fat Possum
The National
Boxer
Beggars Banquet

Rating: 8.3/10 ?


May 21, 2007
The National have an effortless singer-songwriter style that would have fit perfectly within the outsider musical consciousness some thirty-odd years ago, when Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Johnny Cash were writing their way into the history books. Vocalist Matt Berninger actually sounds like an amalgamation of those elder statesmen's voices, nasal and rich, with a deep baritone. The National's music exudes a timelessness that sounds familiar, yet surprisingly fresh even in today's crowded music field.

The cover of the New York via Ohio ensemble's latest release, Boxer, illustrates the album perfectly: a sepia toned photo of the band playing a small stage for slow dancers from a bygone era, perhaps suggesting innocence lost. It also sets the stage for the songs within, which find the band once again cataloging the minutia and melancholy of everyday life and relations. Boxer follows strongly on the heels of their 2005 quiet success, Alligator, which itself followed a string of excellent releases for the band's own Brassland imprint. This is a band that is staying true to its course, consistently nailing its creative center, and arguably getting better with time; like a fine bottle of red wine, mellow and deep, The National are ageing well. Come to think of it, I am hard pressed to think of a band that sounds better in the company of a glass of Beaulieu Vineyards 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon, sipped slowly on a rainy night.

Cincinnati transplants who have called Brooklyn home for several years, The National have been developing a loyal following in the burroughs of New York and elsewhere, especially in Europe. They consist of singer Berninger, and a set of brothers: Aaron Dessner (guitars, bass), Bryce Dessner (guitar), Scott Devendorf (guitar; bass) and Bryan Devendorf (drums). On Alligator, the entire group played an up-front roll, a rock band playing one songwriter gem after another. Boxer maintains the band's central role, but the songwriting reverts back to the stylistic leanings of their earlier work, particularly Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers. Like on that record, the songs here vary from the delicate to the expansive, augmented by beautiful and subtle piano, strings and horns. As always, arrangements are meticulous, down to the guitar picking, and the album's production is as clean as it gets. The group have found a perfect way to make sparse sound rich, which is the perfect compliment to their lyrical leanings, for it is ultimately the details of existence that give life its depth.

It is difficult to pick through a National album and single out highlights. They play as a continuum, almost a novella, accentuated by Berninger's phrasing, in which he sometimes sounds as if he's reading (not unlike his vocal forebearers). I have yet to listen to one of their albums and skip any song, as the lot of them are always that dependable. Yet as with anything that requires paying attention, there is a fine line between being engaged and being bored, especially in an age where most claim to be afflicted with some degree of attention deficit disorder. This band is not for channel surfers who can only watch blockbuster action movies, but for those who can appreciate the slow burn of art, then snippets such as "showered and blue-blazered" and lines like "do you really think you can just put in a safe/ behind a painting/ lock it up and leave" will have import. Boxer is another accomplishment for The National; more understated than Alligator, yet just as alluring, and right on target.

Reviewed by Ari Shapiro
A staff writer for LAS, Ari Shapiro mixes up pretty unique smoothies at XOOM in hot Tucson.

See other reviews by Ari Shapiro

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