From the most beautiful corner of a pitch black room, a piano leads us into the The National's seventh studio album, Sleep Well Beast. While the title may have you pondering about some inner beast going into hibernation, "The Beast" in this instance is actually a symbol of optimism. Merely resting up and readying for a triumphant return.
The band's frontman, Matt Berninger tells The Atlantic "Trauma causes lots of reactions, and a lot of times we have to shut down for a while. I was kind of fascinated with that. There’s a time where you stare at the ceiling and think, “If I can just get some sleep, when I wake up something will have resolved itself.” And often it helps! Dreams are a way of expressing some dark fear we’ve got to get out one way or another.
In that sense we are in some sort of bad dream right now—I mean that kind of literally. Our American conscience went to a very sleepy place, and we allowed Donald Trump to become our president. It’s not just America; we’ve all been letting the planet get so sick. The beast [as in “Sleep Well Beast”] is the future, the truth. It’s about to come back, I hope."
While this new collection of songs does have a throwback feel to Boxer and High Violet, it also has a palpable freshness that was somewhat of a missing puzzle piece on the last release. With that being said, this revitalized touch did not come without risk. The five piece experimented with new musical arrangements and song structures which only showcased their immense talent and the ability to push their song writing abilities in all the right places. One notable change most National-Heads will notice from the start is the addition of looped drum machines and sequencing. Bryan Devendorf, one of the most talented drummers in the genre, was able to explore some more synth-driven techniques that he admirers from bands like Joy Division and New Order as he explains in Rolling Stone's Music Now Podcast.
Even though The National is a five member band, there is however a sixth helping hand outside the group. Commonly referred to as Yoko, or The Oracle, by the band themselves, Matt Berninger's wife Carin Besser lends her poetic expertise. Matt himself admits she makes him a "Way better writer" and Carin is co-credited for all the lyrics and melodies on the record.
Sleep Well Beast is a lazy stumble through thick darkness that feels so good to fall into. From top to bottom, the amount of work and thought that went into this album is more than apparent. To release a seventh record, that in time may be regarded as top 2 or 3 of the entire discography is truly incredible and not to be overlooked. Feel free to stream below and check out the band's live performance of "Day I Die" on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.