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The National - Sleep Well Beast

  • Written by  Cassandra Harrison

Word on the street is, The National will be rocking our sweet nation with a new album set to be released just days from now. So, I thought I had better get my skates on and review the new offering from those well-established, American indie rocksters.  

I feel that I have a personal connection with this band; one of their offspring is named after me. No. That’s a total lie. What we do have in common though, is our common upbringing in the state of Ohio. When listening to their songs, I can’t help but hear the hints of the music that I have spent my formative years hearing. Ohio, if anything, is big on rock. The National have taken that influence, tamed it, softened the hard edges and have created something more introspective, cerebral, and due to all those minor chords, somewhat melancholic.  

The leap from their debut album in 2001, tidily enough titled The National, to their current work is astonishing. My Midwestern ears picked up on a little bit of country. It is with much thankfulness that I hear they have left that part of their sound truly in the dust. So let’s climb into our time travel devices (beaming up, Deloreon or Tardis not needed) and jettison ourselves to the present.  

It’s a slow march into this album, with sombre piano introducing us into this new world. When 'Day I Die' lands, it is like being pulled up into action with rousing upbeat drumming and shrieky echoey guitars. Yes. We’re alert now. Thanks! And then we’re told we’re not needed. “I don’t need you. I don’t need you … And when I do it only feels like you’re halfway there.” Ouch, those lyrics hurt. It is no surprise that The National are known for cryptic lyrics and I have to say, this might be a good example of that. After all, Matt Berninger writes the lyrics into the music that he is handed. Weaving a story around the pre-written melodies must be tricky and therefore piecing together the words to fit the mood, the chords, the repetition of choruses must be a trick and a half.

'Guilty Party' hits us with the truth of being in a relationship that fails. “I’m no holiday … another year gets away.” To me it’s about getting caught up in and stuck in loops of behaviour and even with the best intentions, the same stuff keeps happening. In this song, the guitar has taken a back seat with the drums guiding you along. And to be honest, most of this album has taken the guitars from being the primary sound to allowing the drums to lead the way. As in this song, it is the drums that pull us along.

'The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness' is an absolute gem. The intro guitar riff reminds me of something (and annoyingly at the time of writing this I haven’t yet pinned it down). It’s punchy and direct and I swear you’ll be humming it long after the song is gone. As you listen to the song it’s like holding your breath, waiting for the song to reach its climax. The anticipation builds until the drums move into action. Every time I hear this on the radio, it is still rolling around in my head several songs later, as if my brain has created a special section for it to roam around in.

I think the person involved in 'Dark Side Of The Gym' might require counselling after that relationship ends (badly). Perhaps this is one to slow dance to with your lover, as you carry on into yet another night of your dysfunctional relationship.

The band's massive fan base will most likely receive this new work with open arms and hearts full of love. If somehow you’ve missed them on your radar all these many years, you are in luck to latch on to them when their sound is so solidly them, tinged with maturity and depth. After all, they have grown into their lives and experiences with relationships, marriages, offspring, etc. So much more to draw from and work with.

As a band they are known for not just helping themselves, but helping others as well. I mean, just look at their Twitter feed and you’ll see that even now, they are calling us to think of others, asking for us to consider helping those affected by Hurricane Harvey. A band with a social conscience? *swoon* What’s not to like?

Sleep Well Beast is available from amazon & iTunes.

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