There's something to be said for The National's path to success in today's music climate. The band was formed in the late 90's, well before the world we know today of blogging communities that fuel the hype machine and are always ready to crown the next big thing, and sites like Myspace that help band's get recognized before the majors start calling were around. The band has built their following the old fashioned way, by putting out quality albums and by gaining the reputation for being a dynamic live act. In this model, The National have been a slow & steady builder and have seen a steady growth in fan support with each release, having only recently with 2007's Boxer seen themselves become the critic's darlings.
So coming off their most critical and commercial success to date the group has put out the package of the documentary DVD A Skin, A Night along with The Virginia EP . The film and EP retrace the steps of the band and give a rough look inside the process of what eventually became 'Boxer'. The film which was directed by Vincent Moon, follows the band in the early stages of recording the album and gives brief glimpses of insight into the band and rough sketches of songs that ended up on 'Boxer'. Unfortunately those moments are few and far between as Moon just touches on them in short spurts. There are moments when the documentary lets you in to see the groups vulnerability as artists and anxiety in creating the new work, but more often then not those glimpses turn into an extended music video by Moon. Although visually appealing, the film lacks some structure and substance and left me as a fan wishing I knew more about the thought process of the band and the making of the album.
As for 'The Virgina EP', the disc consists of B-sides, demo's and live tracks and is a perfect compliment for fans of 'Boxer'. Although a few of the songs have appeared in various places before, tracks like "You've Done it Again, Virginia", "Tall Saint" and "Santa Clara" are classic National and easily could have made the original cut. Also on the disc is an alternate take on the brilliant "Slow Show" which reveals a different chorus that ended up being used on the track "Blank Slate". In addition there are covers of "Mansion On The Hill" by Bruce Springsteen and "Without Permission" by Caroline Martin that suit the band's sound and personality. For newer fans of the band that might not know the groups work before 'Boxer' and 'Alligator' there's versions of the older tracks "Lucky You" and "About Today", the latter of which closes things out & gives an eye opening look into The National's live show with an 8 plus minute epic with an explosive finish.