Breaking Artist: The National

May 30, 2007 4:25 PM ET

Who: Graphic design school drop-outs Matt Beringer (vox) and Scott Devendorf (bass) recruited Devendorf's brother Bryan, plus fellow Ohio natives (and twin brothers) Aaron and Bryce Dessner to play music together after relocating separately from Cincinnati to Brooklyn in 1999. The fivesome started recording tunes on a lark, crafting orchestral anthems that drew sonic inspiration from Guided By Voices, the Smiths, the Replacements and Violent Femmes. Eight years and four albums later, the quintet has arrived, first with the release of 2005's Alligator, an indie-rock blockbuster that sold more than 60K, and this month with the critically loved Boxer -- a strings-bolstered collection of epic blue-collar yarns. Read a live review of the National's NYC Bowery Ballroom show here.

Hear It Now: Feast your ears on boozy ballads like "Fake Empire" and "Mistaken For Strangers" on their MySpace page.

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Song Stories

“Madame George”

Van Morrison | 1968

One of the first stream-of-consciousness epics to make it onto a Van Morrison record, his drawn-out farewell to the eccentric "Madame George" lasted nearly 10 minutes, combining ingredients from folk, jazz and classical music. The character that gave the song its title provoked speculation that it was about a drag queen, though Morrison denied this in Rolling Stone. "If you see it as a male or a female or whatever, it's your trip," he remarked. "I see it as a ... a Swiss cheese sandwich. Something like that."

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