Preview: The National - Boxer
Download: The National - "Fake Empire"
Download: The National - "Slow Show"
Download: The National - "Apartment Story"
Holy buckets, I haven't been this pumped about an album since the Free Willy soundtrack dropped back in '96. I've been looking forward to Boxer, The National's unbelievable new record for weeks, months, days, years, decades. Consistently overlooked by the national music media, The National first made some real noise in 2005, when the exquisite Alligator showed up on a number of bloggers/print pubs' "Best Of" features at the end of the year. Defined by Matt Berninger's resonant baritone and sharp lyrics, the band kicked out a number of great twitchy pop songs with shades of country and punk rounding out the edges.
This new album, Boxer, is not nearly as edgy or nervy. From the outset, Berninger & co. sound self-assured and comfortable, as if the mild success they experienced has given them a serious jolt of confidence. That means that the band eschews the jagged catharsis of "Abel" for more subtly, and luckily, this is a band that does subtle seriously well. The best thing about The National are the little flourishes that make their songs feel so alive, like the swell of horns at the end of "Fake Empire" or the steady build-up in "Apartment Story." Beringer's voice, deep and steady, is some unholy combination of Ian Curtis' monotone and Jim Morrison's swagger, and he dominates the record with his personality. In fact, if I had one complaint about Boxer, it would be that at times it feels a bit like Matt Beringer solo album; the presence of the band is much more subdued than it was on Alligator. There is no sense of "Mr. November"'s unified anxiety. But at the same time, The National are now writing songs that don't just seem anxious, they're writing songs that make anxiety, fear and love palpable.
In short, check this out immediately when it drops on May 22. (Lots of bootlegs are floating around the net right now.) This band is too good to fly under anyone's radar.