THE NATIONAL Sleep Well Beast gets 8/10

The National
Sleep Well Beast
4AD/Remote Control

8/10

The National were simmering in the background of the New York scene at the time The Strokes were putting the city back on the map as the mecca of music. Close to a couple of decades later and they’ve built themselves into one of the biggest ‘indie’ bands on the planet. Sleep Well Beast comes after the longest duration between albums for the five piece and adds another chapter to the band’s slow burn.

With band members returning after various side-projects, multi-instrumentalist and key songwriter Aaron Dessner built his own studio in upstate New York and The National were given the luxury of a purpose built space to create one of their most dynamic releases to date. The result sees more experimentation, a greater reliance on electronics and a whole lot of extra muscle added to The National’s sound.

The opening salvo of Nobody Else Will Be There doesn’t show too much of the the band’s new reckless spirit, with Matt Berninger still throwing away his hushed words as gentle electronica seeps into the landscape. Day I Die has urgent guitars and eager drumming. The songs weren’t as tightly composed around the vocals on previous material, as seen when The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness has angular guitars at it’s fore, while it is Turtleneck that finds The National at their most gothic, menacing and discordant.

While many would be happy for the band to tread water and make a record that fits stylistically with the previous few releases for the band, The National have had other ideas. There is a greater sense exigency and energy that shows the outfit have a few extra strings to their bow. While they have previously been at their best with their tortoise paced melancholia, the new found daring of Sleep Well Beast is a fine step forward.

CHRIS HAVERCROFT

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