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Design By Humans
Published On: Wed, Oct 4th, 2017

The National: Sleep Well Beast

The National
Sleep Well Beast
(4AD)

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Their first album since 2013s masterful Trouble Will Find Me, The National’s Sleep Well Beast starts off strong and confident with “Nobody Else Will Be There.” This intro track features heavy, simple piano parts, allowing Matt Berninger’s distinct vocals to cut through easily. The lyrics are straightforward and sad, full of regret about sacrifices and efforts made in a romantic relationship to no avail.

Despite its somber title, “Day I Die” (the most recently released single) picks up the pace with quick, upbeat drums and sparse guitars. The lyrics make our narrator sound a little bitter (“I don’t need you/ I don’t need you/ besides I barely ever see you anymore”) and only seemingly self-assured (as he claims “even ghosts of girlfriends call from Cleveland/ They will meet me anytime and anywhere”). This track stands out lyrically as it moves through wordy, but articulate verses while playing with clever rhymes.

“Walk it Back” features sort of 80s style synths (and later, a collection of haunting sound bites), but still maintains The National’s signature sorrow and substance. The lyrics are initially steeped in emotional resignation, and the synths (rather than sounding dancy and cheesy) build up and break down at a careful, steady pace.

“Carin at the Liquor Store,” is full of sorrow that can be felt through every instrument and every note. There’s something beautiful and barren about this piano heavy track (also the album’s third single)

The final (and also the title) track is soft, clicky, and electric, with an atmosphere reminiscent of Radiohead’s Amnesiac. The lyrics will pull you in emotionally, and Berninger (with his already deep voice) delivers them in an almost sneering tone. It’s a strange, but perfect ending to a great album.

Sleep Well Beast is sonically diverse, and shows the sort of artistic growth that few bands (even those more mature and prolific than The National) can only dream of achieving. It sounds different, but there are still nods to the old days. Longtime fans will love it, and curious new fans will flock to it.

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The National: Sleep Well Beast