The National
Sleep Well Beast


3.5
great

Review

by butcherboy CONTRIBUTOR (113 Reviews)
September 8th, 2017 | 84 replies


Release Date: 2017 | Tracklist

Review Summary: In media res..

By now, The National have solidified themselves as imperial presbyters of the kind of chamber-affected, hyper-civilized post-punk that has come to define latter-day East Coast emotional thrashings. They wield that hard-earned esteem in all the pertinent ways - building a studio in the lordly green of upstate NY, quarantining themselves away with whatever demons and depersonalizations haunt the middle-class mind nowadays, and for the first time, trying to zero in on the sort of unsettled, jarringly sluggish call-to-arms their music has been. It was always loud music made elegant and hushed. On Sleep Well Beast, The National crack through the sheen of their own refinement, and introduce a little havoc to the proceedings.

The National being who they are, that havoc is a decidedly controlled affair, and given their penchant for sophistication, no matter how unhinged or electric they were going to make this, it was always going to ply closer to U2 bombast than the hazy unrest of Joy Division or The Sound. That lingering grandiosity is a tricky field to wade through, and when handled clumsily, it tends to undermine meaning rather than bolster it. Sleep Well Beast isn’t immune to those pratfalls. First single “The System Only Dreams in Darkness,” “Walk It Back” and the Springsteen-esque “Born to Beg” hold all of the gracile aspects that have come to be The National’s calling cards, buried in swirling electronic effects and soaring guitar pitches. These busy ecosystems may touch on more immediate pleasure triggers than the band’s more patient pieces, but do little else as far as cloaking up the tepid song structures within. The doe-eyed radio sheen of “Day I Die” is another clipped moment. A more ragged, nasal vocal tone, and one would have a hard time telling it apart from whatever sparkly fodder Kings of Leon are trading in. The maimed pounce of “Turtleneck” in particular, is the starkest misstep on Beast, and one of more effete moments in the band’s catalogue. These instants sag the middle of Beast, a recess that even the delicately sorrowful “Empire Line” can’t salvage. None of it is empirically bad music………………............ and that’s about it.

The truly breathtaking moments of Sleep Well Beast come wearing all the old familiar faces. The closing third of the album, from “Guilty Party” on, finds the band neck-deep in that inimitable wrenching elegance. Here, the synthetic/electric upheavals find their place with less strain, coming together into that patented grief with stylish ease. The shuffling art-drums and electro-glimmers of the title track in particular make for a small wonder, perhaps the most successful of The National’s new-old tack. Inscrutably patient, it ambles along on punch-drunk legs, the brain abuzz, staggering home after a sweat-sodden night out of nursing crisis, Berninger’s deadpan confessionals slicing through intermittently.

Ultimately, Beast is neither hardened nor exquisite enough to upend the band’s past efforts. It’s a sturdy, reliable entry into their already-formidable body of work. And even if it doesn’t pick apart your heart quite so effortlessly, it’s enough to keep you poetically smothered in that beatific anguish just a little while longer.



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user ratings (683)
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Comments:Add a Comment 
butcherboy
Contributing Reviewer
September 8th 2017


7881 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

great album, and not much else.. won't be cracking my Top 5 for the year, unfortunately..

Digging: Blurt - Blurt

Papa Universe
September 8th 2017


14252 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0 | Sound Off

"one would have a hard time telling it apart from whatever sparkly fodder Kings of Leon are trading in."



Now that's just mean. Nobody deserves to be compared to Kings of Leon like that.

Digging: Slow Bloom - Hex Hex Hex

danielcardoso
September 8th 2017


11684 Comments


This is gonna be my first National album actually. Need to make sure to give it a listen asap, plenty of interesting stuff coming out today.

butcherboy
Contributing Reviewer
September 8th 2017


7881 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

@unique - that song is shite AND it sounds exactly like kings of leon..



@dan - you're standing on the cusp of some amazing music once you start working back through their past four albums..

theBoneyKing
September 8th 2017


14552 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

Beautiful writing per usual butch. This opened up a bit on second listen but it's going to take some time to sink in.

Dan fwiw I wouldn't recommend starting here (it's longer and a bit more obtuse than anything else they've done) but as long as you work through their older stuff soon you should be fine. Boxer is the best entry point imo.

Digging: Beach House - 7

zakalwe
September 8th 2017


25004 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

Facile ratings.



It's the national it takes weeks/months/years to 5 this shit.

butcherboy
Contributing Reviewer
September 8th 2017


7881 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

zaka, I do love this band, but ultimately their music doesn't speak to me the way tindersticks, or says songs:ohia do.. that being said, i'll get back to you in weeks/months/years.. for now, there's too much sparkle and not enough heartbreak here for me..



and cheers, Boney..

DoofusWainwright
Contributing Reviewer
September 8th 2017


19083 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Oh butch...

danielcardoso
September 8th 2017


11684 Comments


Hmm... not sure how to feel about this just yet.

I am inclined to side with Zak here and hope it grows with more listens.

DoofusWainwright
Contributing Reviewer
September 8th 2017


19083 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

This needs to grow?



Lordy.



Eight of these tunes are instant National classics straight off the bat...

danielcardoso
September 8th 2017


11684 Comments


A glance at your ratings and i can assume you're not the most impartial when it comes to this band so i'm not gonna bother explaining haha.

DoofusWainwright
Contributing Reviewer
September 8th 2017


19083 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

The first four and last four songs are all I hoped for.



'Born to Beg', 'Empire Line' and 'I'll Destroy You' might be growers - it took me forever and attending a National gig to realise 'Humiliation' and 'Slipped' were the best two songs on the last album.



'Turtleneck' it is very knowing and mannered but the goofiness is winning me over with each spin.

DoofusWainwright
Contributing Reviewer
September 8th 2017


19083 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

band of a generation dan

Underflow
September 8th 2017


3887 Comments


'Humiliation' and 'Slipped' were the best two songs on the last album.

Welcome, brother. Those songs are phenomenal. Slipped is like the most prototypical National song ever but it's so potent and well-crafted it doesn't even matter.

Digging: Rolo Tomassi - Time Will Die And Love Will Bury It

jtswope
September 8th 2017


5764 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Can attest that Empire Line is a grower.

DoofusWainwright
Contributing Reviewer
September 8th 2017


19083 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Underflow knows

theBoneyKing
September 8th 2017


14552 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

Doof granted I've only spun it twice so far but I don't think any of these are instant classics. Right now it's a 3.5-4

DoofusWainwright
Contributing Reviewer
September 8th 2017


19083 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Oh Boney...

butcherboy
Contributing Reviewer
September 8th 2017


7881 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

Empire Line and the closing four are my favourites.. sorry, fellas.. leaving this plenty of room to grow, but i've been listening to this for two and a half weeks now.. the middle is just blandness..

theBoneyKing
September 8th 2017


14552 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

Doof remember Trouble sat at a 3.5 for me for years... I'm confident this will click sooner than that but The National are the epitome of "growers not showers" and this feels no different so far. There's a reason I haven't rated it yet.



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