The National - Sleep Well Beast
Every time a new National LP is announced, you get the idea that the forthcoming LP will be their last. Most of the band members are involved in other projects, (including the Dessner twins who have their hands in many pots), and their writing process seems like it’s anything but easy with singer Matt Berninger writing lyrics to band demos over the internet in word docs. 3-4 year separation between albums is the norm for The National. Furthermore, when you examine the mood, tension and seemingly ever present demons that lie within each song, you wonder how long a group of adults can keep this up.
Now 4.5 years since Trouble Will Find Me(their longest gestation period), The National have released Sleep Well Beast and it feels like it could be a turning point or a reawakening of the band. Lyricist / Vocalist Berninger dug deep writing with his wife and author Carin Besser as the examined the potential dissolution of their marriage. If his lyrics were ultra personal before, they’ve gone full-on, hollowed-out mode on Sleep Well Beast. Another indicator of the album’s success is the urgency and nastiness that are in full view, at a level we haven’t seen since Alligator in 2005. There’s a harshness and brutal honesty all over the record and the music the Dessner brothers composed is in lock step.
“Turtleneck” is intense in its sound and delivery with Berninger attacking our current president and the absurd and embarrassing movement that brought him to us. “The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness” has a paranoid temperament with guitars providing nervous ticks and drummer Bryan Devendorf pummeling and guiding the tumult, as he normally does. And then there’s “Day I Die” which feels like the last straw of a relationship with Berninger blatantly speaking of all the other women he could be with while wondering: “the day I die where will we be?” When The National do ease back, there’s still plenty to reckon with. Both “Guilty Party” and “Carin At The Liquor Store” jump from the early enthusiasm of a new relationship, to the bitter boredom and restlessness that comes with a well-worn marriage. However, the moody woodwinds, hopeful pianos and relentless drumming on these cuts make you wonder if things are going to turn out better than expected.
Like with any record by The National, extra time is required and multiple listens are needed to fully take the songs in. Their records are almost always “growers.” But perhaps that’s what makes their studio efforts stick, years and decades after they were released. I fully expect Sleep Well Beast to be yet another. (Dom)
Check out a track here.