Review Summary: The National remain as strong as ever while keeping their signature sound.
The National are a slight anomaly among the 00's indie rock bands. While the majority have produced one solid debut album and then slowly faded to irrelevance, The National have started out fairly mediocre and kept steadily improving their sound until they peaked with 2007's Boxer, a phenomenal record with intricate lyricism and melodies. after which they basically stuck to their formula without much deviation.
The band's lineup has also remained unchanged with the Dessner brothers writing the music and Matt Berninger writing the personal lyrics over them and singing with his quite distinctive baritone voice. Bryan Devendorf keeps proving himself as one of the best drummers in indie rock who can pull of some incredible grooves. There is quite a common criticism of The National who refer to them as "boring" or that they keep releasing the same songs without much variation, but as they say there is no need to fix something that isn't broken, though they last record showed slight signs of stagnation.
The first single oddly titled "The System Dreams in Total Darkness" with its bouncy beat already sounds more exciting than most tracks on previous record. But the real triumph is the brilliant second single "Guilty Party" with its subtle electronic beats and piano with comparisions to Kid A era Radiohead. However, the third single "Carin at the Liquor Store" (named after Berninger's wife) seems fairly average for the band, but the final fast paced single "Day I Die" makes that up.
The rest of the album keeps the strong quality of the singles, the opener "Nobody Else Will Be There" is an eerie piano ballad which does good job at setting the record's atmosphere. Other highlights include gentle slow paced tracks "Walk It Back" and "Dark Side of the Gym" and "I'll Still Destroy You", which further showcases the band's great sense of rhythm.
"Born to Beg" is by far the least interesting track here, it is pleasant, but it's not particularly memorable. We also get a real oddball in the form of "Turtleneck", while all tracks on the album are fairly mellow, we suddenly get this raw call back to the Alligator era. And while this track is enjoyable on its own, it really doesn't fit with the mood of the album.
The album ends with the brilliant low key title track, starting with electronic beats nearly identical to "Guilty Party" and ending with repeating lyrics "I'll still Destroy You, Sleep Well Beast" providing a satisfying conclusion.
So with Sleep Well Beast The National have only solidified their position as the most consistent band in the genre unlike Arcade Fire with their last effort. Fans of the band will be still obviously pleased, but this album might also win over those who were not very fond of their previous records.