Nine months into the year and we already have an abundance of album of the year contenders – THE NATIONAL‘s seventh serving of reserved yet passion plied gloriousness has not made the selection any easier.
SLEEP WELL BEAST is arguably their most complete record and the use of digitally cutting synths underlying Matt Berninger‘s downbeat lyrics such as “I’m always thinking about useless things” (Walk it Back) reinforce the mysteriously moody image the Connecticut band have established over the past two decades.
Drip feeding singles gradually before its release allowed The National‘s cult following to pry into what was about to be unleashed. The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness gradually blossoms from a mellow ambience with a glitchy constant and eerily distant piano into an anthemic, arena filling arrangement. Berninger‘s vocals add depth and volume to an instrumentally vibrant track.
It is the piano led ballad Born to Beg that, in our opinion, should be there to lap up all the plaudits given to Sleep Well Beast. Delicate, reflective and quite frankly mesmerising; it was without a doubt crafted to put on in your car when the winter nights come creeping in. A perfect accompaniment to streetlights, fuel lights and an empty passenger seat; Born to Beg pleads “If your heart was in it, I’d stay for a minute” and this only emphasises the cinematic imagery that could be imagined for one of the most signature pieces The National have ever added to their eclectic discography.
On the flip-side to this vibe, the energetic likes of Turtleneck and Day I Die give a glimpse of the wild side of the Ohio outfit that is, to be honest, more evident on stage as opposed to the recorded sound. What is most striking about this record, though, is that although it is a new release, it only takes one listen to familiarise yourself with it. It is the second listen when you already know what is coming musically that you deconstruct the song and pull it apart into your own perspective thoughts.
Guilty Party is possibly the most emotionally ripping inclusion of the record. “It’s nobody’s fault, no guilty party, we just got nothing, nothing left to say,” emphasises the moment of realisation that a relationship has hit that inevitable stagnant stage. As Berninger later adds “I’m the one doing this, there’s no other way,” it stamps the point of having to cut your losses for the greater good – all this dissolution of love to loss wrapped in an heart-wrenching five-and-a-half-minutes is exactly why the Ohio rockers should be regarded as one of the most powerful bands of all time.
Closing the record is the title track, which summarises everything attempted on Sleep Well Beast. Distant vocals, drum machines, wavy synths and lasting over five minutes; the lyric “secret postcard life,” adds another chapter of mystery to what has already come before it. It is the protagonist wondering where their lover is? Is it the fact they are always awaiting a sign that their lover is still into them? Is there a secretive side of someone waiting to escape once more? Who knows, but what we do know is that Sleep Well Beast is certainly going to be on the lips of album of the year critics come the end of 2017.