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The National


The National offers such mellow and often sad sounds that it can make the band easier to gloss over than it deserve. Theirs is unostentatious music, the kind of rock that doesn’t often make a big fuss. At the same time, it carries an emotional weight, drawing more power from a flexed finger than many bands do from heaps of loud, arm-flexing fanfare.

Boxer follows in the same tradition: when you pay attention to it, whatever mood you may have had is destroyed, replaced one-for-one by the mood of the album. Minor chord progressions and Matt Berninger’s wasted, intimate vocals and lyrics carry the album. Production from the Clogs’s Padma Newsome ensures that each song goes somewhere. “Slow Show,” for instance, comes in two parts. The first is up-tempo with strummy guitars, which then breaks to the second part, with a floor tom and a simple but elegant line on the piano. Simple but elegant: “You know I dreamed about you/For 29 years before I saw you.”

While often the lyrics represent quick dashes from people’s lives, the chorus of the lead track “Fake Empire” is explicit: “We’re half awake in a fake empire.” However, a sort of fanfare does develop on that track, after all, reaching its crescendo on a joyous note. It’s a blend which repeats in the National’s work, and a strength which with Boxer they continue to refine. A blend which reminds us that yes, it is possible to be both; at once lost and hopeful.

Evan Winchester



As with any minimalist composition, Christian Fennesz and Ryuichi Sakamoto's new joint effort Cendre first appears overtly simple. A marriage of electronics and piano, the album slips along, the tracks merging into one another. Fennesz's laptop lays a bed of ululating white noise clouds over which Sakamoto's foregrounded piano strolls. Even though the damper pedal (or some digital equivalent) is employed throughout, the piano feels light-footed and loose in its strict register: most songs are played around the same two or three keys, the same two or three octaves, with key phrasing reprised in spots along the album's path.

“Cendre,” in French, which native-Austrian Fennesz and globe-trotter Sakamoto speak, is an “inorganic residue of combustion remaining in oil.” This speaks to the diffuse nature of the composition and its dissonance. The album glides effortlessly until the fourth track “Trace,” when the melody shifts up an octave for a series of corrupt couplets of previous themes. Then the play shifts down again to close in a familiar theme and register, fading out the song. Each track shares these shifts, yet to notice just what the hell is happening one must play the album more than once.

Back in 2001, Fennesz released his landmark Endless Summer, but with Cendre, it seems he is more concerned with mood than ever before. His first new solo album in three years awaits us at the close of 2007. If it holds as many delicious secrets, inorganic and residual, as Cendre, fans should be delighted.

Ryland Walker Knight


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