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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End of Year Favourites

28 12 2011

It’s that time of year again, and here are some of my favourites from 2011 as it draws to its close.

I’ve tried to include audio or video clips where they are available, but I will not upload unofficial media.  If you like what you hear or see, don’t steal the music, support the artists and buy their albums or films.

Gavin Castleton

It’s been a quiet year from Gavin – sadly no new album in 2011 but a couple of free downloads appeared on Gavin’s SoundCloud account, including one of my favourite tracks of the year, Swim Good.  

Swim Good is a track from Frank Ocean‘s Nostalgia, Ultra mixtape release.  Gavin takes the song to another level, underpinning Ocean’s song with my favourite Portishead track, Roads from 1994’s Dummy album.

Listen to Gavin Castleton‘s version of Swim Good below

Listen to Swim Good on iPhone or iPad.

More Gavin Castleton music on cdbaby or iTunes

The National – High Violet

The album that soundtracked my summer.  And yes, I’m a bit late with this album, as it was released in 2010.  If you don’t already have the album, I’d suggest picking up the expanded version which has 7 extra tracks. Lemonworld is my favourite track on the album:

“I was a comfortable kid
But I don’t think about it much anymore
Lay me on the table, put flowers in my mouth”

Runaway is another highlight, sounding like a song that could have come from any era from the 1950’s onwards. Lovely strings (and a rarity in alternative rock, trumpet) on this track.

Watch a live version of Anyone’s Ghost below.

Buy The National – High Violet (expanded edition) or regular CD on Amazon

Wild Beasts – Smother

Deeper (with its Blue Nile Tinseltown In The Rain sounding drums) and Loop the Loop were the tracks I played most from this 2011 album from Cumbrian band Wild Beasts.

There are echoes of the late, great Billy MacKenzie in the vocals at times, and a lovely warm production on this album that makes Smother a more rounded album than 2009’s Mercury Prize nominated Two Dancers.

Watch the band perform Lion’s Share from Smother on Later With Jools Holland

Buy Smother on Amazon

Niki & the Dove

Swedish electronic duo Niki & the Dove releasedthe 7 track  The Drummer EP in 2011. Sounding at times like Stevie Nicks backed by Prince, I wonder if the duo’s name is some sort of Prince homage (Darling Nikki / When Doves Cry?).

Mother Protect starts off like a Siouxsie & the Banshees track from Ju Ju before turning into a wonderful electronic anthem, with a monumental key-change rounding off the song. Pop music is alive and well in Sweden, it seems.

Listen to Mother Protect from the Niki & the Dove Soundcloud site

Watch the video for The Drummer

Buy The Drummer EP on Amazon

Yes – Fly From Here

My favourite Yes album is Drama from 1980, when Trevor Horn & Geoff Downes of The Buggles were in the band (the Yeggles lineup), so its no surprise that I enjoyed Fly From Here, which has Geoff Downes back in the band, and Trevor Horn back behind the mixing desk.

New vocalist Benoît David sits comfortably in the mix, and the album is built round a track that was written by Downes / Horn prior to joining the band in 1980. The Buggles connection continues with Life on a Film Set, which is based on Riding a Tide from The Buggles second, and final album, Adventures in Modern Recording.

Watch the Fly From Here video below

Buy Yes – Fly From Here on Amazon

Pink Floyd remasters

Some of my favourite Floyd albums were re-released this year, in remastered form, with Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals and The Wall sounding better than ever.

Granted they sounded pretty good in the beginning, but the 2011 re-masters avoid the common trick of brickwall mastering, when there is no space for the music to breathe or hit peaks and lows, and the end result is a terribly clipped mix.

Watch the Pink Floyd remasters TV advert below (full 2 minute ad)

Buy Dark Side of the Moon double CD
Buy Wish You Were Here double CD
Buy Animals CD
Buy The Wall double CD or pre-order the 3 CD box-set

And some albums I reviewed earlier this year…

White Willow – Terminal Twlight

Kate Bush – 50 Words for Snow

Thomas Dolby – A Map Of The Floating City

Steven Wilson – Grace For Drowning

Memories of Machines – Warm Winter

Slow Electric – Slow Electric

Releases I’m looking forward to in 2011

    • A new album from Lone Wolf (the follow-up to 2010’s The Devil & I)
    • a duets album from David Sylvian and Joan as Policewoman
    • InGladAloneness the final release from Dalis Car (the late Mick Karn & vocalist Peter Murphy from Bauhaus)
    • Hugh Cornwell‘s Totem & Taboo – which is being produced by Steve Albini in Chicago.  Live version (audience recording) of In the Dead of Night from the album below

Film

The majority of films I’ve wanted to see this year – such as Melancholia, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, I didn’t get round to seeing at the cinema, so I’m looking forward to their release on DVD / Blu-ray in early 2012. Hopefully I’ll review them soon.

Watch The Tree of Life trailer below.

TV

Boardwalk Empire

The quality of the writing, directing and the sets did not let-up for the second season. But in the final episode of the series, they killed off my favourite character.  I won’t give away the identity, but it was a shocker. Oh Nucky, how could you?

Buy Boardwalk Empire Season 1 on DVD or Blu-ray

Watch the Season 2 trailer

The Fades

The Fades is a British supernatural drama, about a teenager who can see spirits of the dead (the Fades). Some of the dead have not managed to make their way to heaven and so remain on earth, and become vengeful towards humans.

The battle between those who can see the dead (Angelics) and the Fades plays out over six episodes, and although the the special effects were not Hollywood quality, it really does not matter as the story was so well written. I’m hoping it pulled in enough viewers to warrant a second series, and a larger audience.

Watch The Fades trailer below

Buy The Fades DVD or Blu-ray on Amazon

Outcasts

Another BBC series was a personal highlight of 2011. Outcasts, a sci-fi drama set in the year 2060, has all the hallmarks of a future television cult classic.

The series is set around survivors from a dying Earth colonizing the planet Carpathia, and the developing conflict between the humans and the Advanced Cultivars (ACs) a group of artificially created humans. Good scripts, strong acting and powerful cinematography (Outcasts was filmed in an alien looking South African landscape), was not enough, and the series finished on a cliff-hanger ending, with no second series.

Watch the Outcasts trailer

Buy Outcasts on DVD or Blu-ray on Amazon








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