Album Review: The National’s “Sleep Well Beast”

Jana Kasab

Four years after the release of their critically acclaimed album, The National released their long-awaited album, “Sleep Well Beast” on September 8.

The album features sounds and lyrical themes that fans will be familiar with, yet it cleverly avoids redundancy by offering sounds that are not typical of the band.

It is consistent in its composition and has a similar “feel” running throughout. Just twenty seconds into the album’s opening track, “Nobody Else Will Be There”, and the listener is already hit with the familiar sound of piano chords that run repeatedly through the slow-paced track.

Surprisingly, the second track, “Day I Die”, diverges from the first one with its upbeat dreams. The track is reminiscent of previous songs by the band such as “Bloodbuzz Ohio” and “Lit Up”.

“Walk It Back” is a lyrically captivating piece where the lead singer, Matt Berninger, almost seems to be conversing with himself. As Berninger sings, themes of hopelessness, anxiety, and regret will hit home for many listeners. The song melodically takes a turn towards the end with lines hinting at reconsiderations.

The next track, “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness”, is the single that the band initially released in May, throwing many fans off guard with its opening vocals, landmark guitar riff, and catchy lyrics.

While the track might sound unpleasant at first to some listeners, it naturally grows on the listener and captivates them melodically.

Other songs in the album include “Born to Beg” and “Turtleneck”.

In “Turtleneck”, an anxious-sounding Berninger, paired with bluesy and loud guitars, pushes the limits of the genre. This is, by far, the most amusing and loudest track in the album.

While it is typical of the band to experiment with noisy sounds, this song offers their most aggressive sounds yet. It is also recommend to listen to a live performance of this song rather than a studio version.

In contrast, “Carin at the Liquor Store” and “Empire Line” are two tracks that fans of the previous two studio albums will particularly appreciate.

The album also features tracks that stand out and add depth. “I’ll Still Destroy You” and “Dark Side of the Gym” integrate experimental, electronic, and art rock sounds. Be prepared for the imagery in lyrics of these two!

Last but not least, there remains the two dissimilar tracks of the album: “Guilty Party” and “Sleep Well Beast”. Although strikingly similar, the songs soon take two completely different paths.

The buildup in the initial ten seconds of “Guilty Party” culminates in some piano chords,  while the rest takes on familiar sounds by the band.

In “Sleep Well Beast”, the song seems to go about a mellow path as Berninger sings in the same monotonic baritone voice throughout its length, accompanied by familiar electronic noises and guitar distortions.

While taking a new direction for their music, The National still manages to pay homage to the music fans love as well as provide space for musical growth that is sure to please fans and attract newcomers.

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