The Last Mixed Tape reviews Sleep Well Beast, the much anticipated seventh album from the National.
A remote album for remote times, Sleep Well Beast is the sound of the National at their most affecting, delivering an album wherein the words and the music are one and the same, and isolation runs through every facet of the record.
Indeed, if the stark imagery of the album cover doesn’t immediately set the tone of Sleep Well Beast than the opening isolated beat of ‘Nobody Else Will Be There’ will. Far away from the unyielding power of Trouble Will Find Me, the production this time around is purposefully sparse in places to make the frantic builds and crashes seen on ‘Guilty Party’ and ‘I’ll Still Destroy You’ more powerful.
The whole album feels geared towards this thematic push and pull. Throughout Sleep Well Beast, every note, every word, and every beat feel removed from one another. And while these elements occupy the same space, the impact on songs such as the dynamic ‘The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness’ is given more weight by the distance created through the gentle repose of ‘Carin at the Liquor Store’.
This is all brought to the fore via Matt Berninger’s signature croon. His vocal remains the focus of Sleep Well Beast. And while there are more reflective moments (see: ‘Born To Beg’), it is the politically charged ‘Turtleneck’ where Berninger lets loose and takes the spotlight. Growling lines like “Just another man, in shitty suits, everybody’s cheering for. This must be the genius we’ve been waiting for”, the melding of lyrical themes with the music becomes more apparent. Add to this the silent snarl of ‘Walk It Back’ (which features quotes from Karl Rove – former advisor to George W. Bush) and the bubbling political undercurrent of Sleep Well Beast is subtly portrayed.
Far removed but still carrying with it the National’s penchant for sonic melodrama, Sleep Well Beast finds the band giving their music a much needed artistic jolt. Evolving but still maintaining that which has brought them to where they are now, it’s how these sonic changes play into the ennui, isolation, and frustration of the record that makes Sleep Well Beast all the more captivating to behold.
Sleep Well Beast by the National is out now via 4AD Records.