The National
Sleep Well Beast


5.0
classic

Review

by SowingSeason STAFF
June 8th, 2018 | 98 replies


Release Date: 2017 | Tracklist

Review Summary: I’m just trying to stay in touch with…anything I’m still in touch with.

Sleep Well Beast began as a tepid disappointment the first few weeks I owned it. It was autumn, the leaves were a patchwork canopy of orange and yellow, there was a crisp chill in the air, and it was that contemplative time of year when music has always seemed to click with me effortlessly. That’s part of what made my inability to truly lock in to Sleep Well Beast surprising, sure; but at the same time I’ve come to expect personal indifference, even towards the artists that I once loved. Listening to music just doesn’t have the same impact on me now that it did when I was sixteen, or even twenty-three. Lyrics rarely move me because I’ve heard something similar before, and there’s also less in my life to be moved by. I’m married, quite happily, and spend the better part of my days weaving in and out of professional and household duties that rarely change and all blend together by the end of the week. When I hear heartbrokenly passionate songs, they remind me of the past, not the present – other songs about religion, death, existential philosophies, et al register to me as angst-ridden. Like, dude, you’re nineteen and singing about the futility of existence…get over yourself. I guess I’m just old and jaded. Regardless, these are all reasons that music has become an exercise in nostalgia for me. It’s less about what moves the Earth right now and more about what helps me to relive a time when I thought that music could move anything at all.

That’s where The National comes in. On the surface, their music here sounds lifeless, dull…aching. It’s an odd thing to call High Violet energetic, but compared to Sleep Well Beast, it was a towering record. ‘Terrible Love’ felt determined, bolstered by repetitive chants of “it takes an ocean not to break”, while ‘Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks’ had a soaring, crescendo of a chorus (“all the very best of us, string ourselves up for love”) that felt like everyone in the world was coming together to heal. Then Trouble Will Find Me brought forth some of their most accessible songwriting and production to date, bestowing gems like ‘Demons’, ‘Graceless’, and ‘Pink Rabbits.’ Sleep Well Beast?Awash in electronics and warm reverb, peppered with some of the slowest, dreariest ballads in the band’s repertoire?That was going to take some time, I thought, to relate to. Taking the band’s well-recognized brand of measured, brooding rock and making it even slower – almost to a glacial pace at times – while dimming the lights and bathing in electronics wasn’t my initial idea of the best way to progress their sound. It turns out, however, that it was the perfect – and possibly only – way to get through to someone like me. Someone bored, generally unaffected, and wondering where all the passion and energy of his youth went.

Sleep Well Beast is one of the few albums I’ve heard in recent years that relates to me, as I am now. It’s monotonous on the surface, but there’s embers of passion from years past still glowing. It’s desperate and needy, like Berninger muttering on the eponymous closer, “I'm at a loss, I'm at a loss, losing grip, the fabrics rip…” in such a way that sounds indifferent to losing one’s sanity. It’s wondering where its adolescence disappeared to, and pondering decaying relationships simultaneously (“I barely ever see you anymore…And when I do it feels you're only halfway there”). It marvels at its own indifference to the deterioration of its social and familial relationships: “I'm the one doing this, there's no other way / I just got nothing, nothing left to say.” It grasps desperately at emotional connections, trying in vain not to lose what makes it human: “I'm just trying to stay in touch with…anything I'm still in touch with.” The way Berninger delivers these lines – these farewells to feeling – stirs something deep within my own overarching, apathetic haze. How is it that something so uncaring and generally listless about its own loss makes me feel alert and connected again?Perhaps I just needed to know that I wasn’t alone, and that feeling disengaged as you grow up and put the pieces of your life together is, somehow, normal. Maybe needing companionship in any form – even music – is what makes us all human. I have no actual idea; I’m just trying to stay in touch with…well, you know by now. But somewhere in the muted tones and dreary, piano driven, electronically laced verses of Sleep Well Beast, I reconnected with myself. I guess music can still move some things.



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Comments:Add a Comment 
SowingSeason
Moderator
June 8th 2018


27453 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Review #349...thought about holding this one off to 350 because it does mean a lot to me, but alas.

Also, that moment when you realize Jom and Willie are going to smack you with a piece of plywood for writing this instead of the weekly news post.

Digging: Foxing - Nearer My God

theBoneyKing
June 8th 2018


15076 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

Lovely writeup Sowing. My feelings on this record are very similar - it also took me quite a while to fully warm to it but now I love it nearly as much as anything else they've done.

What disturbs me slightly is how much I relate to your level or relative indifference at only age 20 myself... ;-P

Digging: Animal Collective - Feels

DoofusWainwright
June 8th 2018


20004 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Very personal take, like it, my music listening has altered as I've got older - bit like my Tindersticks II album review said, there's different stages of angst/emotional resonance.



So yes, in 2018 I listen to nostalgiacore romantic albums like the Blue Nile more than 'you like depression because it matches your eyes' Deftones



You've just got to stop listening to Sowingcore teenage sentiment albums ;D



In honesty you're correct, nostalgia does become a greater factor in music as you get older.

SowingSeason
Moderator
June 8th 2018


27453 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Thanks fellas. This is my #2 National now (HV is tops).

theBoneyKing
June 8th 2018


15076 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

Still #4 for me but only Natty could have a #4 this good.

DoofusWainwright
June 8th 2018


20004 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

#4 for me too

Darius
June 8th 2018


17072 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Great review Sowing.

I think I am the only one on this site who's least favourite 2010s record is High violet

Clumseee
June 8th 2018


1040 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I love HV

What don't you love about it?

theBoneyKing
June 8th 2018


15076 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

HV is my favorite album ever Darius, tread carefully.

Darius
June 8th 2018


17072 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I have my mine-proof boots on

Darius
June 8th 2018


17072 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

"What don't you love about it?"

I enjoyed it, I just think Trouble and especially this one far outclass it

SowingSeason
Moderator
June 8th 2018


27453 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

I'm guessing everyone who has this at #4 have Alligator and Boxer over this, which makes sense. For me, I got into them in during HV so while those other albums are awesome in retrospect, I didn't form any meaningful experiences with them.

DoofusWainwright
June 8th 2018


20004 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I don't have 'Alligator' above it, I just think the run from 'Boxer' to (my favourite) 'Trouble' is flawless

Darius
June 8th 2018


17072 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

For me

This > Box > Trouble > Gator > High

Still haven't heard the pre Gator material tbh

theBoneyKing
June 8th 2018


15076 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

Nope Sowing, I put Boxer and TWFM also over this, not Alligator. And I also got into them circa High Violet.

SowingSeason
Moderator
June 8th 2018


27453 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Interesting. For me it goes High Violet > Sleep Well Beast > Alligator > Trouble Will Find Me > Boxer > the rest.

Darius
June 8th 2018


17072 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I cannot get with Boxer so low

Clumseee
June 8th 2018


1040 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Alligator > Boxer > HV > TWFM > SWB > The National > Sad Songs

Alligator is perfect. Boxer and HV are close to perfect. TWFM would be top 3 if it trimmed the fat. SWB is great, but just not quite at the same level as the others. Perhaps over produced? I prefer the S/T's alt country feel to Sad Songs.

ianblxdsoe
June 8th 2018


1887 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

absolutely phenomenal review. had to do a double take on the front page to make sure i didnt need to refresh hahah. i agree with the sentiment at the least that this album is definitely not what anyone expected, but it’s grown on me for the reasons that the album bears. the warm electronic glow is dull and boring at surface i suppose, but i embraced it more as gentle and dreary — a look into a perspective that feels all too familiar yet so astoundingly contrast to mine that it almost even seems satirical that i find so much to relate and encapsulate myself in while also acknowledging the sentiment that the album could have for so many others. that’s why personally this is my favorite National record as a whole, even though i wish i could let Boxer or HV hold that crown. again, stellar review, perhaps might even be my favorite of your’s thus far. 349ths the charm? ;)))

Digging: Chief Keef - Mansion Musick

SowingSeason
Moderator
June 8th 2018


27453 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Boxer just never felt impressive to me. I've gone out of my way to spend extra time delving into it, but it's never left a lasting impression or made me want to come back to it, save for a couple songs.



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