The National, Boxer (Beggar's Banquet, 2007)

I subscribe to Paste Magazine, which specializes in coverage of independent music and film. I don't always agree with their opinions, but I do find the magazine to be an excellent source of information, and the CD they provide with each month's issue has given me reasons to buy many of the CD's that I've reviewed here over the past two years. Their choice for best album of 2007, by both the staff and their readers, is an album called Boxer by a group from Brooklyn called The National. Despite their location I'd never heard of the band, but this struck me as a sufficient reason to give their album a listen.

While The National's music fits snugly in the category of indie rock, they do try a lot of different things on Boxer. Little twists like the drum roll intro on "Squalor Victoria" keep the listener guessing, and the album as a result sounds anything but predictable. Matt Berninger (vocals), Aaron Dessner (guitar, bass, piano), Bryce Dessner (guitar), Bryan Devendorf (drums), and Scott Devendorf (bass, guitar) handle hard rockers like "Mistaken for Strangers" and acoustic ballads like "Green Gloves" equally well. The most distinctive element of The National's sound, though, is the singing of Berninger. His deep voice evokes some of the 80's New Wave singers, like Robbie Grey of Modern English or Steve Kilbey of The Church. Despite a limited range, Berninger's delivery is quite effective.

I'm grateful to have found a couple of albums over the past year where the whole turned out to be greater than the sum of its parts. Boxer certainly fits that description. There's no standout track for everybody to download onto their MP3 player, but there's no wasted track either. Rather, Boxer steadily grows on you. The lack of a clear hit may regrettably restrict The National's audience, but after listening to Boxer a few times I can understand why it has generated such a favorable response.

Overall grade: B+

reviewed by Scott

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