Alec Reviews Music: The National shows dark side with ‘Sleep Well Beast’

Alec Erickson

When it becomes necessary, emotions and music become one in the same.

Album cover for The National's Sleep Well Beast
Photo Courtesy: iTunes

The National has always been the indie rock heroes in recent years. They have the style, they have the sound and they are not ever afraid to make the music that they want to make. Hearing something by The National at most times is thought provoking and invites you to at least relate to what is happening on the track. The National’s latest release takes all that and throws caution to the wind with “Sleep Well Beast.”

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Based out of Cincinnati, Ohio, The National have been around for the better part of two decades now. The band has always been a band of brothers apart from vocalist Matt Berninger. The rest of the band consists of brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner and Scott and Bryan Devendorf. From their self-titled debut album in 2001 to some of their later releases like “Boxer” or “Trouble Will Find Me,” The National have never really had a hard time in the spot light. While the band likes to blur the lines between alternative and post-punk they have always been making the kind of music that they want to make. It is unique and genuine, and that is the best way to describe the band’s seventh studio album “Sleep Well Beast.”

“Sleep Well Beast” is a 12-track record that clocks in at just short of an hour in length. What listeners will find the most apparent when it comes to this record is just how much more broad the sound has gotten with The National. They are beginning to experiment a bit more than what we have heard in previous releases and at the same time it is what you would expect with something from The National.

Musically, we hear a bigger focus on piano element and guitar as well with “Sleep Well Beast.” Tracks like “Empire Line” and “Walk It Back” almost seem to rely on the piano to drive the track but do not necessarily rely on it to carry the song. In “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” and “Turtle Neck” the guitar riffs are the main focus, which is something in The National’s catalog that does not usually get a lot of focus. When it comes down to it, “Sleep Well Beast” is a pretty diverse record from front to back and a lot of fans are going to appreciate that. Tracks like “I’ll Still Destroy You” and “Day I Die” are almost driven by synthetic elements, which is a rarity with The National.

Lyrically, there is this weird combination of humor with gloomy elements. It almost seems like with “Sleep Well Beast” that The National tried to find the best in a dark situation and for the most part this works well for them. “I’ll Still Destroy You” and “Guilty Party” look at both the good and bad and have some cleverly written lines that will keep fans coming back to hear something that they might have missed earlier. The National did not completely revolutionize their sound or structure and that is completely fine. Tracks like “Walk It Back” or “Born to Beg” are almost expected out of the band at this point but still have a fresh sense to them that make them appealing. That is something that really this whole record carries, while it tackles some heavier subject matter, “Sleep Well Beast” is trying to find that one glimmer of hope in a trying time.

Should you listen to it? Absolutely.

The National are walking away with their seventh studio album being one of their largest in scale and scope. Many fans might not appreciate the overall tone and feel of the record, but the band manages to do a phenomenal job of creating a dark and brooding atmosphere. The National may not have taken the route that many have expected them to with “Sleep Well Beast,” but at least at the end of the day they can say that they made the record that they wanted to make.

Where to buy: 

Target: $8.99

iTunes: $9.99

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Amazon: $9.49

Collegian Reporter Alec Erickson can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on twitter @CTV_Ace.