Sleep Well Beast
Reviewed by Lauren Rosier
Over the course of post-punk revival band The National’s 18-year career, their music has been characterized by its dark melodies and lush melancholy, laying a solid foundation for frontman Matt Berninger’s signature baritone vocals. Those characteristics continue to hold true on the band’s latest effort, Sleep Well Beast, their follow up to 2013’s Trouble Will Find Me.
Like the band’s previous releases, Sleep is just as successful at evoking emotion (if not even more so). Berninger and company have always been incredibly talented at crafting songs that explore various themes from relationships to politics, and doing so in a melancholy fashion. From the single “Day I Die” that ponders the thought of cheating with previous girlfriends “I don’t need you/I don’t need you/besides, I barely even see you anymore” to the political “Turtleneck” and presents the current administration in the most apropos language “just another man/in shitty suits/everybody’s cheering for/this must be the genius we’ve been waiting years for”.
The haunting opener “Nobody Else Will Be There” features the signature baritone of Berninger’s vocals delivering a signature performance. The band drifts away from the elegant arrangement on “Trouble” and into a more electronic-heavy mindset “Empire Line”, “I’ll Still Destroy You”, and “Guilty Party”. On “Empire Line”, an electronic dance beat opens the track and flows into a rhythmic percussion beat, while his vocals gently float with orchestral arrangements.
A trip-hop beat opens “I’ll Still Destroy You” from a drum machine, while Berninger lovingly ponders self-medicating and the different head-spaces “this one” – whether it’s alcohol, weed, or other drugs – can take one to. The last minute or so of the track creates a brilliantly chaotic and exquisite instrumental part with an orchestra. It fits so oddly, yet so perfectly with the theme of the song.
The way the five-piece expands their sound with the use of electronics is step away from the melancholy vibe we’re used to. However, the arrangements on Sleep Well Beast are placed perfectly in those songs “Empire Line”, “I’ll Still Destroy You”, and “Guilty Party”, and illustrate how The National is able to show musical growth. It works.
Members: Matt Berninger, Aaron Dessner, Bryce Dessner, Scott Devendorf and Bryan Devendorf
The band is currently on tour in Europe and the U.K. in support of their record. They will be stateside soon and will be playing a SOLD OUT show at Verizon Hall in Philly on 12/4/2017 But there are tickets still available at Forest Hill Stadium in New York City on 10/6/2017.