The National take a moment out of their skyrocketing success to look back at where they’ve been on The Virginia EP. Since last year’s Boxer (QRO review), the Brooklyn band has been getting bigger and bigger, from touring with The Arcade Fire to headlining opening night at Manhattan’s massive new Terminal 5 (QRO venue review) to this summer’s tour with Modest Mouse and the one-and-only R.E.M. But before that, the band releases their tour documentary A Skin, A Night and the accompanying The Virginia EP, a collection of rarities, alternates, and live tracks which can stand on its own.
The EP opens with its best completely original track, “You’ve Done it Again, Virginia”. This relaxed, world-wise ode to a world-weary girl is a little more alt-country than your regular National, but it’s as top-notch as anything they’ve done, with Matt Berninger’s vocals winning everyone over. While The National don’t exactly reinvent their soft, dark, orchestral melody on The Virginia EP, that doesn’t mean tracks like “Tall Slate” aren’t nice, and there is still some musical exploration. The driving build on the prior “Blank Slate” goes into a bright outlook, while the more restrained and pretty “Without Permission” plays as a nice change. However, the press is a little lame and one-note on the otherwise nice “Santa Clara”, and Berninger kind of mumbles through “Rest of Days”, whose haunting garage guitars aren’t really what you’re looking for from The National.
Two alternate versions and three live renditions round out The Virginia EP. Berninger is still mumbly on their new take on Boxer’s “Slow Show”, which has nice strings but is a little too removed. Stronger is new approach to “Lucky You”, the final piece on 2003’s Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers, which gets more of an alt-country twang on Virginia. The live triptych does a great job of showcasing The National’s raw, effective, emotional power in concert, starting with their cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Mansion on the Hill”, whose grand touch brings the whole town into the listener’s head. But the pinnacle has to be the live “Fake Empire”; an amazing track on Boxer, it gets even better live, and this recording shows that. While finisher “About Today” can’t keep up with that, the piece from 2004’s Cherry Tree EP is another that takes a step up live.
No, The Virginia EP isn’t as revelatory as Boxer, but it’s a strong helping for an off-season release (and at twelve tracks, you get more than on most EPs – and many LPs…). The National had slogged through this decade before breaking out with Boxer, and have a healthy discography to show for it. This is a very nice addition.
MP3 Stream: “You’ve Done It Again, Virginia”