The National don't do anything radically different on Boxer, but then again, they don't really need to: their literate, quietly anthemic take on indie rock seemed to have arrived fully formed on their 2001 self-titled debut. Boxer just hones in even more precisely and intimately on the heartfelt territory the band covers, with punchy-yet-polished production and orchestration by the Clogs' Padma Newsome giving these songs an intimacy and widescreen expansiveness that rivals the Arcade Fire. The album's first four songs are among the National's finest work yet: "Fake Empire" begins as a dead-of-night ballad that echoes Leonard Cohen, then peppy brass and guitars turn it into something joyous. The brooding "Mistaken for Strangers" touches on the side of the band that could be mistaken for a more hopeful Joy Division, if lyrics like "You wouldn't want an angel watching over you?/Surprise surprise, they wouldn't want to watch" can be counted as hopeful. "Brainy," a borderline obsessive love song, shows off the remarkable, dark chocolate richness of Matt Berninger's vocals and how well they complement the band's occasionally bookish lyrics, while "Squalor Victoria" makes the most of Newsome's lavish string arrangements. The rest of Boxer is subtler, but no less accomplished, with each song supporting the other as a classic album should. "Apartment Story"'s hypnotic chug and "Slow Show"'s witty, knowing affection make them standouts, while the graceful, regretful "Ada" plays more like a short story than a song. As focused as it is ambitious, Boxer is riveting.
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