& that is that, is that, is that....
If you check my blisslist on a regular basis, you are most likely familiar with my preoccupation with The National.
I've known about this band for about a year - my ex-boyfriend
recommended them to me. I was dating someone else at the time, and
ironically, The National quickly became associated with that
relationship instead. "Mr. November" and "All the Wine" belong to
Geoff. I'll admit, I did not spend a lot of time on the band. I
listened to Alligator very casually, and when my relationship
fell apart The National was deliberately stuffed in my sock drawer. And
there it stayed, at least for a little while. The National belonged to
both of my exes, not to me.
It's a long story, but a series of very recent events caused me to start listening to Alligator and Boxer again - this time with a different ear. A very different ear. And this time, I got it.
Part of me is appalled that it has taken me so long to fall in love
with these records, but I now understand that The National's music will
only give back what you invest into it. Like anything in life that is
meaningful, you have to battle with it a little - put in a good fight.
And even the songs themselves grapple with this theme. I read an
interesting article last week that focused on how Boxer pushes
the listener around - its songs "sparring with Berninger's vocal
melodies, jabbing and swinging at the singer's empathies and emotions."
On Friday I went out and purchased Vincent Moon's documentary A Skin, A Night. This 60-minute film "documents" The National as they record Boxer, which was released in 2007. I love Alligator, but I am completely enraptured with Boxer.
I was listening to "Ada" today, finding myself mouthing the words as
the piano line flitted in the background (Sufjan Stevens is on the
piano here). My heart wanted to break and swell simultaneously - life
is so heart-wrenching & wretched yet so arresting &
mesmerizingly beautiful.... and as we grow older and try to find
meaning in our careers and daily fumblings, trying to reconcile lost
loves, it all just feels so unmagnificent in the end. How we are all just fuck-ups, really. But then I hear lyrics from "Slow Show" like "You
know I dreamed about you for twenty-nine years before I saw you, You
know I dreamed about you, I missed you for twenty-nine years," and
I know that it really can be magnificent. I hear the up-swells in this
album - the impeccably arranged orchestrations, the heart-beat
throbbing drum-work, unexpected structural shifts, Matt's pinot-laced
murmurs and pleas....
Boxer is the best thing I've heard in my entire life. Yes, a very bold statement. I'm not taking it back though. When you know, you know.
I had seen the trailer for A Skin, A Night,
and I suspected the film would be nebulous in both its content and
aesthetic. I was right. Very little information is conveyed during this
documentary (or perhaps, more appropriately, this art piece. I don't
think Moon really intends to specifically document anything). This is
ultimately disappointing, but the piece still ends up being worthwhile.
Many fans will hate it, and yes, opportunities are wasted, but Vincent
Moon had other intentions all along...
I was already aware of how The National struggled to make Boxer,
and Moon does a fantastic job of amplifying the band's anxieties &
frustration throughout the entire piece - the subway raucousness, tired
& morose faces, the repetitive devices he employs - Moon is
lurking, but he doesn't let up. There are a few spots of warmth in the
film, always moments where we are listening to the band's music - which
is funny since their music isn't exactly "warm" (rather warm in the way
that you wear an ex-lover's t-shirt to bed. A lonesome
warmth...hopelessly romantic, but ultimately unsettling).
I found myself marveling at how much goes into an album, how
artists bear heavy burdens of uncertainty and anxiety about their art.
How dogged they have to be as they wade through ruminations and self
doubt...how they box each other over notes and arrangements. This is
ultimately reflected in their music. The brooding, slow-burning
intensity of Boxer is no accident - it's a derivative, a collaborative fever dream that was fully realized. With all of its unconventionalities, A Skin, A Night captures this well.
This will be my last song from The National for awhile. (I promise!)
You can listen to it below or feel free to listen to it on my July mix-tape in the upper right.