The National's music is centered on Matt Berninger's baritone and emotionally charged narratives.

The National's music is centered on Matt Berninger's baritone and emotionally charged narratives. With his situation-specific imagery of apologies, forgivenesses and flashes of fierce confidence, he draws the whole outfit into the scenery of "Alligator." The group's tempestuous songwriting translates into finger-picking and moments of breathtaking crescendo, with pure rock'n'roll emerging from elaborate lyrics. Spontaneous at times and calculated at others, not a single moment is wasted on needless repetition or contrived force. Sarcastic moments give way to tense ones; the murkiest tracks react in maniacal fashion. Piano, strings and vocal harmonies tastefully dart about, manipulating even coarse melodies into tight, fully realized verses. "Alligator" is easily the National's best effort and quite possibly one of this year's finest records.—KH

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