The National – Sleep Well Beast

11 09 2017

Sleep Well BeastSleep Well Beast is the seventh album from Cincinnati’s The National, and the follow up to the 2013 release Trouble Will Find Me.

I’ve always loved the more mid-paced, atmospheric songs such as Lemonworld, Fireproof and the haunting I Need My Girl so Sleep Well Beast is a pure delight for me. Opening with glitchy percussion and buried deep in the mix atmospherics, Nobody Else Will Be There sets the scene for the majority of the album.

“Its getting cold again but New York’s gorgeous”

Sleep Well Beast is stuffed to the brim with a mix of memories, the trials and tribulations of getting older and attempts to make sense of our messed up world.

I think its a brave move opening the album with one of the slower paced tracks, rather than a more obvious opener such as Day I Die. After the disappointment of the last Arcade Fire album, its great to be reminded that there is still plenty of great alternative rock coming from across the Atlantic.

Walk It Back is a perfect example of how simplicity can lead to the most beautiful music. The simple three note guitar riff, underpinned by strings, in the songs mid-section is one of the most moving parts of the album. Talking of great guitar work – the white-hot guitar solo that leads into a wonderful delay heavy rhodes piano and rhythm outro on lead single The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness is a moment of pure magic.

“I can’t explain it any other, any other way”

Born To Beg feels like a love song to New York and to an un-named someone. The often discordant electronica bubbling alongside the repeating piano motif works well, and shines a bright light onto the aching lyrics.

Turtleneck is the album’s noisiest track, with a late 80s / early 90s U2 referencing guitar line in the 1st verse, and what sounds like a dig at the current resident of The White House. Achtung baby!

Empire Line has one of the album’s most infectious choruses and some Fripp like squealing, processed guitar lines as the track heads to its conclusion.

The intro to I’ll Still Destroy You sounds like 80s Bill Nelson – all handclaps and crazy marimba. The arrangement and instrumentation is playful and endearing, and at odds with the more sombre feel of the majority of the album. I would have loved to hear this song blaring out of an FM radio in the 80s. This one is a keeper!

Of course, after such a frenzied and uplifting track, you just know that the comedown is waiting just around the corner. Guilty Party is the delicious antidote to the joy that preceded it. The end section of Guilty Party, with a trumpet line battling for your attention against a looping guitar melody, is awe-inspiring.

“Its nobody’s fault – no guilty party”

Carin At The Liquor Store is the first of a pair of songs that almost feel like standards from the mid 1950s. The arrangement and band performances feel effortless on this track.

The National

Dark Side Of The Gym is my favourite song on the album, and likely to be one of my favourite songs of 2017. After a quiet, unassuming opening and chorus, the chords of verse two hit hard. The song slowly builds but keeps its core simplicity throughout.

And how can you not fall in love with a verse like this:

“I have dreams of anonymous castrati, singing to us from the trees
I have dreams of the first man and first lady, singing to us from the sea”

Seriously, everyone else just stop writing your self-obsessed lyrics and ask Matt Berninger and Carin Besser to supply your words from now on.

The psychedelic ending to Dark Side Of The Gym leads into the album’s title track and final song. The percussion and electronica backing of Sleep Well Beast has a feel of some of Bjork’s darker material. The fuzzy guitar and deep synths add a feeling of disquiet that mirror the lyrics of loss and dread.

“Thought that you were something good that I would always keep”

I hope you feel like diving into the new album by The National. Let me know if you enjoyed the album by leaving a comment below.

Buy The National – Sleep Well Beast on CD

Buy The National – Sleep Well Beast on vinyl

Buy The National – Trouble Will Find Me on vinyl

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