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.