The National deliver their most impressive album yet with Boxer, adding an interesting complexity to their sad indie-rock. With their new record, this Cincinnati-by-way-of-Brooklyn band looks set to challenge such heavyweights as Interpol and The Editors for the dark, pressing, alt-crown of thorns. Boxer is not just weightier than previous National albums, but deeper, with a powerful strain running all the way through.
For such a strong record, Boxer doesn’t open on its strongest note. “Fake Empire” starts with a subdued piano, before adding drums, but lacks a hook. Boxer really starts grabbing with the second track, “Mistaken For Strangers”. The first single, “Mistaken” has that hook, making it more dark than sad, with a nice bass-fueled middle. The National can be catchy when they want to be, yet don’t lose their essential heartbreak, like with “Mistaken” and second single “Apartment Story”, which glides along oh-so-nicely, all the while taking you along with it. And “Ada” is wise and clever, without ever being too clever for its own good.
The National also take it up a notch in skill on Boxer, trying out some new avenues and generally succeeding. The early one-two punch of “Brainy” and “Squalor Victoria” has impressive percussion at both cores, a rhythmic beat for “Brainy” to go along with its echoing keys and guitar and singer Matt Berninger’s pitch-perfect voice, and a driving base on “Victoria”, a sort of sad song that the man would sing after driving away, leaving the girl in tears. The quiet guitar opening of “Start a War” belies the growing power it develops, thanks Bryan Devendorf’s pushing drums. “Racing Like a Pro”, meanwhile, uses melody to make itself immensely meaningful. And finisher “Gospel” is almost classical in feel, smooth, but touching.
For a band as dark and downbeat as The National, the future really looks bright. Boxer has all the air of a ‘breakthrough’ album, the kind that will land them on MTV, then Rolling Stone, and then turn them into big, full-of-themselves jerks. Hopefully that last one won’t happen, but whatever comes next, based on Boxer, it’s going to be good.