The National: Sleep Well Beast (4AD) Review | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Issue #61 - Grizzly Bear

Sleep Well Beast


Sep 06, 2017 The National Bookmark and Share

Liking The National has somehow become a parody of itselfa bunch of white dudes that make sad music about loneliness and growing up somehow seems so… predictable, and, frankly, pointless during a Trump administration. For instance, if I were to tell you The National’s new album, Sleep Well Beast, opens with a sad, beautiful song, would you be surprised? If you found out that lead singer Matt Berninger pleads not to “fuck it up” within the first three tracks, would that shock you? If you heard Sleep Well Beast has a song called “Guilty Party,” would you even bat an eye?

But if I told you that Sleep Well Beast is one of the best albums of 2017—would that surprise you?

Because, in spite of the expectations of “another National album,” Sleep Well Beast is a towering achievement. It’s a tweaking of the formula that the band has been riding since Alligator (and that they perfected on Boxer). But here, they’re taking chances like they haven’t since then, and almost everything they’re trying works beautifully. The first hint of this is in opener, “Nobody Else Will Be Here”-behind the usual piano and Berninger’s still-stirring baritone, electronic sounds and synthesizers gurgle. It’s not until “Walk It Back” that they burst into the foreground, with a chugging beat that decays into a Karl Rove (yes, that Karl Rove) quote.

First single “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness,” with its jagged guitar bursts and widescreen choruses, sounds like a sharpening of the “National sound.” “Turtleneck” is a chugging Krautrock squealer, harkening back to the best of The National’s Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers era, while highlight “I’ll Still Destroy You” builds off a skittering drum machine beat and marimba flourishes. These sounds are unexpected, a surprising shift in a band not recently known for their shifts.

The National also reminds listeners that it is one of the best bands this side of Radiohead that can build to an epic close out of recurring bits of sound-nowhere is this more apparent than on standout “Guilty Party.” The song rides to a stunning conclusion on the back of a series of sounds (particularly a piercing guitar line), all while Berninger sings about a guilt-ridden loverokay, so maybe that hasn’t changed.

Sleep Well Beast is the sound of one of the best bands of this decade pulling new sounds into their repertoire and making those sounds wholly theirs. It’s difficult to deny music this well-crafted and affectingand perhaps being able to make anything beautiful and affirming in the Trump era is notable. This is the band’s best album since Boxer, and will stand as one of the year’s best. (

Author rating: 9/10

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Average reader rating: 8/10


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June 19th 2021

These sounds are unexpected, a surprising shift in a band not recently known for their shifts.

- Emplyment Lawyer