Album Review: The National ‘Sleep Well Beast’

The National’s seventh album is a tale of domestic endurance, at times it is bleak and still, and at others, it is deep and simmering with passion. Throughout, it is a stunning 12-track outpour that is one of the albums of 2017.

The Ohio band are incredibly thoughtful, analytical, true, and their style is influenced only by what influences them. Lead singer Matt Berninger has expressed before that he feels the dynamics of relationships and day-to-day life are reflected in politics. Thus, ‘Sleep Well Beast’ has grown out of an era where from Berninger’s point of view, the sky over the U.S. has changed colour a little.

‘Nobody Else Will Be There’ is the opener, a slow and brooding track that reveals a desperate character. The album begins almost as a stopping point, it doesn’t have us fall into the album, accelerate into the first track but instead reflect. It feels like a final track, and it is one that had me intrigued as to why the off-beat Berninger has crafted it this way.

Then we have ‘Day I Die’ that releases twins Aaron and Bryce Dressner, a screeching tune that feels like a sharp intake of breath as music. “I don’t need you, I don’t need you, besides, I never really see you anymore…”, says Berninger, eloquently defiant. The 6-minute long second track that is next up, ‘Walk It Back’, features spoken word that speaks in a similarly defiant sense, here he is fighting himself to refrain from an argument, the same argument over again.

If personal endurance isn’t your sort of thing, then granted Berninger might not speak for or to you. But there is a direct and impactful effect that runs through the album. Questions, answered and unanswered. In ‘The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness’, he asks, “why are you hiding from me?”

Electronic drumbeats impulse at stages through the record, in ‘I’ll Still Destroy You’, they subvert and submerge with Berninger’s stylistic off-pulse vocals. On the face, a stumbling lyricist but deeper, a crafted technique that manages to combine both an uncomfortable but personable atmosphere. Those beats continue into, ‘Guilty Party’, “I’m no holiday”, says Berninger. The connection between him and co-writer, and wife, Carin seeps out of the tones.

The final single before release, ‘Carin At The Liquor Store‘ is where the keys of Aaron Dessner are the focus, behind of course the off-key lyrics, the ebony between the ivory.

The title track ‘Sleep Well Beast’ is last up, at over 6-minutes long will leave the lasting impression that this is far more than mellow tones and regret, but instead, aggression embossed through lyrics and the combination of lively drums and guitar sounds. It is one of their best, and one of the best albums of this year without even the most regrettable, domestic and quivering doubt.

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