On their seventh album, Sleep Well Beast, The National take some risks, and it pays off.
The mournful Nobody Else Will Be There is potentially the band’s most emotional opener, with Matt Berninger singing in his conventionally conversational way, “Can you remind me the building you live in? I’m on my way”, over sweeping strings.
Day I Die is more percussive and upbeat, with the Dessner twins’ guitar-work feeling reminiscent of Mr November, while the screeching harmonic riff adds a hint of Kings of Leon to the mix.
Many of the tracks may feature electronic scratches and pulses for rhythm, but drummer Bryan Devendorf’s presence couldn’t be more impactful when he does enter. Songs such as Empire Line, I’ll Still Destroy You highlight this, as well as Guilty Party - a track which bears heavy emotions from Berninger. “I say your name. I say I’m sorry. I know it’s not working,” make it as poignant as their tearjerker About Today.
The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness involves The National’s first ever guitar solo over female vocals, and the romantic waltz of Dark Side Of The Gym is more optimistic, with Berninger singing, “I’m gunna keep you in love with me for a while”.
The closer is intensely insular with its croaky delivery, providing another lyrical gem, “Go back to sleep, let me drive, let me think, let me figure it out. How to get us back to the place where we were when we first went out.” The only minor fault here is Turtleneck, a loose cannon, verging on noise rock, which sadly lacks clarity.
Sleep Well Beast is arguably their most consistent work since Boxer, and undoubtedly the album of the year so far.