Album Review: The National – Sleep Well Beast

Any die-hard fan of Brooklyn-via-Ohio band The National will say the best album is a tie between Alligator and Boxer. This defining era of post grunge, indie alternative-rock trademarked their inimitable ominous, gritty sound. In 2010 Aaron (guitars, keyboards) & Bryce (guitar) Dessner, Bryan (drums) & Scott (bass) Devendorf, and Matt Berninger (vocals) released High Violet, further injecting their dark grooves with studio effects and production efforts that mirror the same experimental eclectic, electro-rock sound that Radiohead morphed into

This theme continued on 2013’s compellingly gloomy Trouble Will Find Me, and after a four year wait The National are finally ready to present their seventh full length album Sleep Well Beast. Track one Nobody Else Will Be There opens with soft, electric rhythm guitar plucking’s enlivened by cheery whistling effects that tease the listener into believing that the song they are about to hear is happy. Twenty seconds in, queue the sharp, aggressive plunge into a bass toned, minor piano cord. This graciously welcomes listeners back into the signature dismal National vibe. The song stays attractive as the drum machine clicks drive the gray, piano cord progression

Latest single, Day I Dieencapsulates the vivid, existential lyric genius of Matt Berninger. He declares in the third verse “I’d rather walk all the way home right now than spend one more second in this place,” and throughout the song returns back to the same burning question “The day I die where will we be?” The song also grabs listeners with its jumpy, fast paced beat

The next song, Walk It Back may very well be your favorite song on the album if The National hooked you with it’s dark, obscure and eclectic indie rock vibe. This track highlights Berninger’s groggy, conversational vocal style, which is a clear Leonard Cohen inspiration. The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness, the lead single for Sleep Well Beast was a perfect first taste of this new batch of songs because it revealed a hint of the experimental, eccentric National style while also displaying classic elements of a National song. The echoing trumpet part during the chorus provides a colorful and full toned sound to the smooth, soft rock momentum of the song

One of the first memorable tracks from the first listen through of Sleep Well Beast is track eight I’ll Still Destroy You. It begins with an electronic beat and features deep lyrics and a pretty chorus melody. The next song Guilty Party, the second single from this release, is the perfect follow up to I’ll Still Destroy You because both songs contain similar spacey, indie rock elements. Another track that displays the signature National style is Carin At The Liquor Store. The song is driven dominantly by a gorgeous piano chord progression, and Matt Berninger’s raw, rugged vocal style is the perfect compliment to the relaxing, curing piano melody

With Sleep Well Beast, The National continue to prove to music lovers that all songs don’t have to be happy or bright. Even if it’s a sad, dark vibe, The National will lure you with their sharp musicianship and masterful raw style

Scott J. Herman