Very Extended Play, this one, at twelve tracks. A mixture of b-sides, demos, live versions and other rarities, The National could easily put this out as a full album (there are versions of two tracks from Boxer, the rest are more likely to be unfamiliar to most fans). As it is, it's the audio half of the CD/DVD package, where the video half is Vincent Moon's (no, really, that is the name he goes by; he bears no relation to Howard and Mr. Noir) film about the band and the creation of Boxer (watch the trailer here), called A Skin, A Night (huh??).
I do love The National, but haven't yet been motivated to check out the pre-Alligator albums. I think this might do the trick though, coz the version of 'Lucky You' (originally on Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers) is pretty amazing.
The highlight of the EP, at least after only a couple of listens (and The National are undoubtedly a band that require more than a couple of listens), is 'Without Permission', a pretty stark and disarmingly frank (at least compared to the crypticisms of putting blue ribbons on brains and all that jazz) post-break-up song. "Please come back for just one day". You could call it slight, or obvious, but I think that'd be missing the point. If there is one. Maybe in someone else's voice it wouldn't come across with the same air of 'just a little bit of defiance left, despite everything'. As it is, it's beautiful.
Just as stark, but darker, the guitars and vocals distorted to the point of incomprehensibility, is another hard-to-find track, 'Rest of Years'. There's a moment in the bridge where the vocals lift and it sounds almost hopeful, but the chorus is sinister and heavy as hell. "I can turn everything around" doesn't sound a promise you'd believe.
The whole package definitely seems worth buying; the EP alone is worth the cash for the two tracks above, and the live version of 'Fake Empire' (so you can marvel at the weird rhythms another forty times, from a slightly different angle). Here's the mp3 dosage:
mp3: [mp3 removed]
mp3: [mp3 removed]
(both from A Skin, A Night/The Virginia EP)