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Album Review
The National

The National
by Sleep Well Beast


Review Date
8th September 2017
Reviewed by
Paul Larsen

As the elder statesmen of indie rock, The National will always carry a weight of expectation with the release of a new album. Unfortunately, they’ve set the bar particularly high for themselves this time around with 2013’s Trouble Will Find Me being lauded amongst fans and critics alike as one of the band’s best. So how well does Sleep Well Beast stack up?

First off, this is ostensibly a break-up record. More specifically, an autobiographical telling of front man, Matt Berninger’s struggle with a deteriorating relationship and the self-flagellation, frustration and loneliness wrapped along with it. When Berninger utters lines like “I’m always thinking about useless things, I’m always checking out” (‘Walk it Out’) and “No guilty party, we just got nothing... nothing to say” (‘Guilty Party’), it’s in a deeply personal voice that saturates the entire record. Offset only by the occasional moments of euphoria and even punk rock abandon (‘Turtleneck’).

Sonically however, Sleep Well Beast is damn near perfect. All The National hallmarks are here: hushed, gravelly vocals, minor key melodies, frenetic drums and that lovely bright guitar of the Dessner brothers. However, it’s all elevated by the use of peripheral sounds and instruments which can go unnoticed in the moment but overall, add so much. From the string crescendo on ‘I’ll Still Destroy You’ to the pulsing synth tucked into the background of ‘Empire Line’, a secondary level of sound paints this record with more colour and depth than we’ve heard from them before.

As an aside, it’s difficult to overstate how important drummer Bryan Devendorf’s work is to the sound of the band. From day one, his myriad of fills and powerful timekeeping have kept Berninger’s meandering vocals in check and provided an urgency and purpose to the band’s music.

Sleep Well Beast is a record mired in the melancholy. While this isn’t unusual for The National, when set against such a vibrant and compelling soundscape, the results are intoxicating. Time will ultimately tell if it’s a long term favourite, but for right now it easily equals their best work and lifts the bar again on Trouble Will Find Me. Devastatingly good.


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