|National, The / Sleep Well Beast|
|Add Date:||2017-10-03|| ||Pull Date:||2017-12-05|| |
|Week Ending:||15 Oct||8 Oct|
The National’s detractors have long pegged them as “boring,” or more charitably, patted them on the head as “dad rock.” Perhaps as a way of shaking off those labels, The National’s new album, Sleep Well Beast, leans much heavier into “rock” than “dad.” This is still very much a National album, with Matt Berninger’s sexy, brooding baritone and the Dessner brothers’ exquisite instrumentation, but it’s clear that the old dogs have learned some new tricks, playing around with guitar distortion and electronic elements (percussion and flourishes) like never before. Thematically, it’s a break-up album about a couple that loves each other enough to not break up in the end—a fascinating lyrical concept that makes for heartfelt, relatable songs. Then again, The National don’t get nearly enough credit for being either of those things.|
FCCs: 2, 3, 6
Favorites: 2, 4, 7, 9, 10, 11
1) “Nobody Else Will Be There” (4:41) – Takes about twenty seconds to warm up. Slow, sparse, regretful piano ballad about trying to make time for the one you love. Subtle, clicking percussion, whirring electronics, and strings.
2) “Day I Die” (4:32)* – FCC “g******.” More of a classic National tune, thanks to its driving percussion and anthemic chorus. (There’s even a bristling, screeching guitar riff.) A true standout, great to play if listeners don’t mind the Lord’s name being taken in vain.
3) “Walk It Back” (5:59) – FCC “f***.” Lengthy track with repeated synthesizer line and, uh, a sampled quote supposedly from Karl Rove. Repeated f-bombs make this track unplayable outside of safe harbor.
4) “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” (3:57)* – The National tries their hand at agitpop with this this brisk, proggy number. There’s subtle stabs of horns and a jagged guitar line which breaks into a full-on guitar solo midway through.
5) “Born to Beg” (4:23) – A gentle waltzing number. Between the piano and the electronic beat, the song’s rhythm can be kind of confusing on the ears. It’s also just a bit of a drag.
6) “Turtleneck” (3:00) – FCC “p***,” “s***.” The National’s most unhinged track in years. It’s a loud rocker, punctuated by Berninger’s urgent (almost screamed) vocal delivery.
7) “Empire Line” (5:24) – Slow and gentle number with a subtle electronic throb. Builds a little in intensity after the 3:30 mark, but like “Born to Beg”, it’s not a song I’d play for someone if I was trying to turn them onto The National.
8) “I’ll Still Destroy You” (5:15)* – There’s something oddly haunting about this song, which starts with synthesized coos and a skipping electronic beat. Builds to an agitated climax in the last minute with frantic strings, rumbling bass, and, of course, drums.
9) “Guilty Party” (5:39)* – Song is driven by piano riff and electronic beats, later proper drums. Musically, it echoes Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love”; lyrically, it’s about Berninger and his wife falling out of love. (Fictionally, of course.)
10) “Carin at the Liquor Store” (3:34)* – (Pronounced “kah-RYN.”) A piano ballad that might be the most immediately affecting song on the album. Guitar solo at 2:30ish.
11) “Dark Side of the Gym” (4:50)* – Another waltz. There’s an almost weightless quality to this one, which floats along on reverbed washes of guitar, chiming electronic tones, and skipping strings. You can fade out after 4:20 if you’d like.
12) “Sleep Well Beast” (6:33) – If this song sounds like a mix of “I’ll Still Destroy You” and “Guilty Party” at first blush, you’re onto something. It combines some of the best elements of those songs—namely the skittering electronic beats and complex percussion—and throws in some new sounds, like a crumpled, abrasive guitar. The middle instrumental and the closing minute and a half tend to meander a bit.