Monday, November 23, 2015
The National -- Boxer
Remember Paste Magazine? It was like the kindler, gentler Pitchfork, except it was a real magazine, except now it is not a real magazine anymore, and it is online like Pitchfork. Whereas, Pitchfork is the snobby hipster idiot, Paste is the kindly, bearded, sweater-wearing English Professor, except they both like the exact same music.
I once !HUGE NERD ALERT! worked in the Audio-Visual department of the main branch of the East Baton Rouge Parish Library. The head librarian of that department at the time was completely out of her depth, and seemed to base most of her library music-collection purchases based on Paste Magazine reviews, for lack of personal knowledge. That meant that there was always an issue on her desk, and when things got slow, I'd grab Paste and take a look at what was lukewarm (that was a joke, cuz none of it was hot). I remember two things about Paste:
1. Every issue seemed to contain an interview with an "alt-country" band that insisted, "We're country, but we're not like this modern radio-country that isn't really country at all. We're like Hank Williams and old-timey real country." But really they were just white kids from the suburbs who could never properly convey the suffering of the country greats because they've never had to strive through anything, and anyway, their music was most likely so boring, Hank Williams would only see it fit for the soundtrack to his post morning six-pack nap. Or it was modern bluegrass, which is just as bad. 2. The National was on every Paste cover ever published and won every Paste Album of the Year award, even in years in which The National did not release an album. I bought The National's Boxer for $3 on Amazon's digital music blowout (this was my second National purchase/attempt to like The National). Here's what I think about The National's Boxer:
I don't like The National. Their music is really, really boring (IT'S DAD ROCK). The singer's voice, for the entirely of this album, is essentially what happens when you ask a dude with a baritone to work out 676 x 4363 in his head..."ummm..." There's little variation in tone, emotion, or...even notes. I read once that they have a bassist...I'm not sure what he does. There's a drummer, and I guess he jumped on the whole "I know, after decades of better drummers' experimentation, musicians much more talented than myself have determined which parts most constitute a full and satisfying-sounding drum kit, but that's stupid, and so are cymbals" bandwagon that so many...I'm not going to call them drummers, they're percussionists, have jumped on, and he mostly just goes boom boom (bass drum) tap tap (snare drum) or some variation thereof with some tom rolls tossed in, meaning the drums completely lack any sense of dynamics, and are good for absolutely zero amount of catharsis, as there is no crash cymbal to pay-off the constant boom-boom tap-tap. This is also why John Mark McMillan's recent album is just good and not great. When the National do break out some cymbals, it's like "Why don't you use them for the whole album, and not this one inconsequential part?" Also, I might be a little passionate about this topic.
There are some horns sometimes, and the band have been called "cinematic," and I guess that's why, but cinemas feature moving pictures, and the stagnancy of this music from track to track is more evocative of a photograph. The National's music is "photographic."
Here's why Boxer was so heralded:
The first two songs are very different, and they're very good, and something you'll notice if you read a lot of reviews of any kind of media is that a very massive cadre of reviewers do not in-fact listen to, watch, or play the entirety of what they are reviewing, and only experience the beginning, make a snap-judgment, and rush out the most "I'm smarter than you, here's my opinion" one or two-paragraph and move on to whatever-is-next crap review they can.
Well, I could have just listened to the first two songs on Boxer, which I think are very good, and said "This album is so awesome" in an avalanche of five-dollar words that obscured the fact that I have no idea what I am talking about, but I actually listened to this stupid album that I don't even like multiple times just so I could give you my honest opinion of it. To be completely honest, those first two songs are great, and are everything people say The National are, and while the rest of the album isn't "bad," per se, it is everything I said The National are in the previous paragraph. Boxer is like falling into a muddy, barely intelligible baritone that doesn't even make sense when you can understand it, forever and ever and ever, and the sound never changes, even when they whip out the acoustic guitars, and after five listens, I tried an experiment where I only listened to the first ten seconds of every song in quick succession, and I almost drove my car off the Bueche Road Extension railroad bridge.
If you enjoyed this, or hate-read it, I'm reviewing High Violet next.
2007 Beggar's Banquet
1. Fake Empire 3:25
2. Mistaken for Strangers 3:30
3. Brainy 3:18
4. Squalor Victoria 2:59
5. Green Gloves 3:39
6. Slow Show 4:08
7. Apartment Story 3:32
8. Start a War 3:16
9. Guest Room 3:18
10. Racing Like a Pro 3:23
11. Ada 4:03
12. Gospel 4:29