The National shine on ‘Sleep Well Beast,’ their first album in four years. ‘Sleep’ is an adventurous alt-rock LP unafraid of darkness and experimentation.
To some extent, pre-arrival, it was difficult to gauge the direction The National were going with their seventh studio album, Sleep Well Beast. Sleep Well Beast marks the Ohio band’s first album in four years, following Trouble Will Find Me, a respectable affair. The main reason it was tough to gauge was due to the singles, particularly taken out of the context of the album. Question marks are cleared up hearing Sleep Well Beast in its entirety. Ultimately, Sleep Well Beast ends up being an adventurous alternative rock album, unafraid of darkness and experimentation. Here are the top-five songs from Sleep Well Beast.
No. 1: “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness”
Matt Berninger described “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness.” in a Pitchfork interview as, “An abstract portrait of the weird time we’re in.” That explains the odd vibes of the record. On the first verse, lyrically, he’s disappointed and arguably, deceived. Deception continues on throughout the chorus section. Likewise, the second verse finds Berninger surprised by the condition of things, approached like a relationship. As stacked as Sleep Well Beast is, “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” is arguably the crowning achievement.
No. 2: “Nobody Else Will Be There”
“Nobody Else Will Be There” initiates Sleep Well Beast radiantly, yet equally enigmatically and intensely. It’s tense, thanks to the expressive vocals of Matt Berninger, the prominence of the piano coupled with background sound effects, and the fractured relationship oriented lyrics. This is a sad kickoff, but at the same time, brilliant and worthwhile.
No. 3: “Walk It Back”
The pronounced electronic sound of “Walk It Back” makes it stand out instantly. While it is quite modern in this regard, The National don’t completely stray away from the guitars and rock cues. Besides the unique sounds, Berninger remains the star, giving a playful vocal performance. The chorus is catchy, and of course, dark.
“I only take up a little of the collapsing space / I better cut this off / Don’t wanna f–k it up / I only take up a little of the collapsing space / I better cut this off / Don’t wanna f–k up the place / I better walk it back, walk it back.”
No. 4: “Carin at the Liquor Store”
Standout “Carin at the Liquor Store” opens with acoustic piano, creating a certain ambience. There are some subtle sounds in the background in addition to the piano-dominated production. Berninger adds his rich, distinct baritone atop the simple backdrop, which eventually expands with more instrumentation. “Carin at the Liquor Store” never grows incredibly overt, always maintaining poise and control. Even so, Berninger infuses more energy as it progresses. The M.O. is love, specifically for his wife, Carin Besser.
No. 5: “Day I Die”
As a buzz single, “Day I Die” came off respectably without being transcendent or game changing. Contextually, within Sleep Well Beast, “Day I Die” stands out more. Following the tense opener, it’s quickness and rock-oriented sensibility gives the album more spunk. It’s exuberant, yet still showcases pessimism lyrically. “Day I Die” isn’t the crowning achievement, but packs more punch than initially credited.
Honorable Mention: “Turtleneck”
In regards to its harmonic progression, “Turtleneck” has similarities to “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness.” The assertiveness of the band, led by Berninger, stands out here.
All in all, Sleep Well Beast ranks among the most intriguing albums of 2017. As aforementioned, it’s dark and experimental, not to mention accessible, yet at times, more inaccessible. It’s the mark of a true work of art that never ceases to captivate. The music, lyrics, and of course, Berninger’s baritone, rock.
Gems: “Nobody Else Will Be There,” “Day I Die,” “Walk It Back,” “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness,” “Turtleneck” & “Carin at the Liquor Store”
The National • Sleep Well Beast • 4AD • Release: 9.8.17
Photo Credit: 4AD