Friday, February 01, 2008

The Album of 2007

As we say farewell to January and (belatedly) 2007, the music industry seems as mutable as ever. This moment's flavor becomes, more often than not, stale and somehow expired just a couple months later. Thus, the album's continued validity as a creative form seems somewhat tenuous. While it remains a viable form of packaging, the rise of aggregate listening means the average time spent with one band is just a few minutes, rather than the better part of an hour. That's not to say that the last year was devoid of exciting new music, far from it. However, it was a rare full length that captured my fractured attention for more than a couple weeks, probably less than the agreeable top ten. So, the National's Boxer is unique, in so many ways. Over the last six months, it's been one of the few constants in my life. Always a gratifying listen, there was always something new to discover.

It begins, of course, with "Fake Empire." The elegant piano rhythm is quickly displaced by Matt Berninger's perfect baritone, but it's only the beginning. The way this song builds constantly, save for a quick break for drumming jabs, is incredibly disciplined. What was once a simple melody becomes a inexorable, yet gentle, storm, complete with trumpet wails. "Mistaken For Strangers" takes a more direct root, with its deep-throated bass and immediate volume. The prevailing nocturnal mood of Boxer is broken somewhat, but the unquenchable romanticism is not, as Berninger sings of the "silvery, silvery city bank lights." And so it goes, each song as consistently great as the last. And it might be this constant quality that makes the album envelop me whenever I hear it - it could also turn someone off.

Paste's succinct three star review was one of the few less-than-gushing takes on the album. Six months later, Boxer would be the magazine's number one album, with Editor Josh Jackson literally (or literary-ly) adding two stars in his column. In a world where hype has become a self-sustained cycle and deadlines are endless, that sort of retrospection is rare. It's a testament to the album, and also to the fact that music is very subjective. But as far as I'm concerned, this is the album of the year.


The National plays two sold out shows at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in February. They return somewhere in the city on June 19th in a gigantic tour supporting REM and Modest Mouse. Here's the bands' White Sessions, which includes most of Boxer's songs and a couple older cuts, with a bit more live grit.

1. Start A War
2. Brainy
3. Slow Show
4. Squalor Victoria
5. Apartment Story
6. Racing Like A Pro
7. Ada
8. You've Done It Again, Virginia
9. Mistaken For Strangers
10. Fake Empire
11. About Today

Entire Set: Mediafire
MySpace: The National
Official Site: The National

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