The National
Sleep Well Beast


4.7
superb

Review

by TalonsOfFire STAFF
September 8th, 2017 | 1370 replies


Release Date: 2017 | Tracklist

Review Summary: The National return with a sprawling and adventurous new album that holds up to their legendary career.

The National’s four-album run beginning with Alligator and ending with Trouble Will Find Me represent a distinct era for the band. Lyrical themes were clever, dark, cryptic, and sometimes humorous. It was clear however that each album cycle generally represented times in Matt Berninger’s life (and perhaps of the other band members) from early twenties to older ages. This general timeline is resumed in Sleep Well Beast. The music however evolves into new sounds while lyrics traverse the ups and downs of married life.

Berninger’s marriage that Sleep Well Beast explores is one that is fortunately still thriving. This reality casts a hopeful light on the message of Sleep Well Beast, which is that there is no universal answer to our relationships; Berninger is just sharing his experiences in a relatable manner, communicating wisdom by tapping into listeners’ feelings and personal experiences. Berninger’s more direct lyrics occupy an abstract space alongside the more experimental musical direction. Whether this approach is better than the previous or not is simply a matter of opinion; it’s just different. Sleep Well Beast sees The National flourish with candid lyrics and diverse song craft, embodying the band’s continuing evolution and life’s constant change.

“Nobody Else Will Be There” begins Sleep Well Beast on an effective, melancholic note, also signifying changes in instrumentation and texture. A repeating piano line acts as the focal melody, while a gentle electronic rhythm keeps tempo. Various sound effects and echoes add layers and color, also appearing in many of the other tracks. Most of the album’s first half is more upbeat however, with a straightforward rock-oriented sound that they haven’t recently indulged much in. "Day I Die" is a fast-paced, driving track that feels at home in The National catalogue despite how rarely they indulge in its style. There are even guitar solos that appear, working surprisingly well in “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” and one of the band’s most fast-paced songs to date, “Turtleneck.”

Longer tracks see the band uninhibited and experimenting frequently. The second half of Sleep Well Beast is where most of them are found. “Sleep Well Beast” is a cyclical song, with core melodies and rhythms looping in order to allow all manner of beautiful sounds and harmonies to be conjured throughout. “Empire Line” resembles “Tangle Formations” by post-rock band Explosions in the Sky, combining driving percussion with piano, guitars, and violins rising and falling in and out of the mix.

The wide, spacious production is immaculate, allowing for an intimate blend of sounds that also feel grand and expansive. This enables the best song on the album, “I’ll Still Destroy You,” to harness its wild dynamics gloriously. Busy electronics and staccato’d string playing dance together, hurtling towards a powerful crescendo that recalls fan favorite “England” from High Violet. Much of Sleep Well Beast is more reflective as well: gorgeous tracks like “Born to Beg” and “Dark Side of the Gym” exhibiting how effective The National can be at slower and more somber songwriting. The contrast between quieter songs and the more challenging, experimental moments never takes you out of the listening experience. The changes in mood from song to song are handled with finesse and care.

The National certainly aren’t afraid to take risks. The electronic elements add new dimensions and possibilities to each song. Despite the changes The National have undertaken, their brand of indie rock remains as impressive and fresh as their previous classics. Their musical world is one rife with unique insights and dark, detailed songwriting always able to emotionally connect and inspirit.




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user ratings (509)
Chart.
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Comments:Add a Comment 
TalonsOfFire
Staff Reviewer
September 7th 2017


16797 Comments

Album Rating: 4.7 | Sound Off

I haven't reviewed a new release with a score this high since Nick Cave and the Bad Seed's Skeleton Tree from one year ago to this Saturday. It's definitely my AOTY. What do others think of it (provided you've heard the official version)?

Digging: Tame Impala - Currents B-Sides & Remixes

BrushedRed
September 8th 2017


2571 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

LOVE THIS ALBUM. It’s worthy of the score.

Cormano
September 8th 2017


1141 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

can't wait to jam

suppatime
September 8th 2017


882 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

i'm only a few songs in but i'm already loving it. can't wait for the 2nd half.

TalonsOfFire
Staff Reviewer
September 8th 2017


16797 Comments

Album Rating: 4.7 | Sound Off

Yeah the whole album is fantastic but I probably prefer the 2nd half slightly.

nukethewhale
September 8th 2017


59 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

anybody else get some M83 Midnight City vibes from that synth lead in Day I Die?

theBoneyKing
September 8th 2017


12929 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Just finished my first listen. Admittedly wasn't blown away - in terms of how much I enjoyed that listen it was their least enjoyable since Sad Songs but I just know it is going to grow on me and accorndingly I won't rate it yet. Nothing that stunned me but lots to absorb for sure.

Digging: Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago

3waycrash
September 8th 2017


190 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Great review! Going to be listening to this tonight. Thought about giving the leak a listen, but didn't since the quality wasn't that great. Glad I did, on first listen this is sounding really great so far.

Going to need to give it many listens and time to really get a good feel on how I feel about it. It's the same with all their other albums. Not really a good band to soley go off of first impressions, at least for me.

Toad
September 8th 2017


1395 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

production on this is indeed incredible. jamming the leak actually prepped for a better first spin on this - a hybrid of a first spin and a familiar listen.

while the electronics seem far from necessary, they're a nice touch to spice up the discog and go well with the production value

Digging: The Goslings - Grandeur of Hair

Gyromania
September 8th 2017


23437 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

4.7 naww

brainmelter
September 8th 2017


4572 Comments


hype short bus

Digging: Imprecation - Theurgia Goetia Summa

RadicalEd
September 8th 2017


8576 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

The drumming on this. Just wow.

DoofusWainwright
Contributing Reviewer
September 8th 2017


16414 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

First listen right now...

Digging: Cathal Coughlan - The Sky's Awful Blue

FreddieDelaney31
September 8th 2017


3331 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Personally think this is Bryan's best album

Digging: Converge - The Dusk in Us

DoofusWainwright
Contributing Reviewer
September 8th 2017


16414 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Still love that Pitchfork won't embrace this band as the best of a generation as they don't consider them one of their own (see Arcade Fire, etc). Think the highest they've ever rated one of their albums is an 8.3 or something.



Now consider the dreck they've chucked 9+ scores at and it's comical.

DoofusWainwright
Contributing Reviewer
September 8th 2017


16414 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Drumming is incredible on Day I Die



So far I'd think>



Nobody [4/5]

Day I Die [5/5]

DoofusWainwright
Contributing Reviewer
September 8th 2017


16414 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Walk It Back reminded a little bit of the most recent Elvis Depressedly (love that album)



Next two tunes>



Walk it Back [4/5]



The System Only Dreams [5/5]

RadicalEd
September 8th 2017


8576 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Preliminary, first impression song ratings:



Nobody 4,5/5

Day I Die 5/5

Walk it Back 3,5/5

System only Dreams 5/5

Born to Beg 4/5

Turtelneck 2,5/5

Empire Line 4,5/5

I'll Still Destroy you 5/5

Guilty Party 5/5

Carin 5/5

Dark Side of the Gym 5/5

Sleep Well 4/5



So yeah. Pretty amazing.

FreddieDelaney31
September 8th 2017


3331 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Every song is a 5 except for Walk it Back, Empire Line and Turtleneck

RadicalEd
September 8th 2017


8576 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Pitchfork ratings (counting only the full length releases) in chronological order are:



6.6

8.4

7.9

8.6

8.7

8.4

8.0



So they have one of the highest ratest discopgraphys on that site.





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