Written By: Filip Teovanovic
Originality: (3.0 / 5) Vocals/Flow: (4.0 / 5) Lyrics: (4.0 / 5) Production: (4.0 / 5) Average: (3.8 / 5)
Seventh full-length studio release by one of the most loved indie rock bands of the 21st century brings necessary refreshment when it comes to sound and stylistic solutions. After two remarkable albums, Alligator and Boxer, The National have been sleepwalking. They were playing it safe, exploited the initial respect they received and slowly walked into generic monotony. This time around, unconventional structures of pop songs, dark atmosphere and intelligent lyrics are still ubiquitous, but everything is renovated with minimalistic electronic elements, obscure piano melodies and guitars that do not play their usual role. Altogether, these innovations pushed The National out of their comfort zone and constructed an upgraded soundscape.
The nuanced experimentation’s the band is able to execute are what makes them so sophisticated. Bryan Devendorf, a man who is addicted to constant progress, gives rhythmic support to the band with his tribal set of drums and helps The National stand out from the rest of the indie rock scene. His mastery is blindly followed by subtle guitar riffs of Dessner brothers, while Matt Berninger’s signature baritone hypnotizes and paints every song in a specific tone.
Contrary to previous albums, his singing is more clear now. There is less of that authentic mumbling we got attracted to on the band’s debut and sophomore. As Matt tries to deal with his roles as a father, husband, singer and American citizen, we get broad range of topics permeating through album’s lyrics. From real, human in-capabilities to figure it out in the coordinate system of today’s axiological anarchy to eternally current love problems and angst that inevitably refers to Donald Trump, the listener is bound to activate his cognitive apparatus by listening what The National have to say.
What are the standout tracks? Certainly the first single “System Only Dreams In Total Darkness“, a track that offers spot-on dissection of current political climate. My absolute favorite is “Turtleneck“ that reveals all the energy The National have been conserving ever since Boxer. You can hear Matt screaming here, which is a rare opportunity, at least when it comes to studio releases. I am also not sure whether I love “Dark Side Of The Gym” more due to its title or because of its emotional intensity. Although “Guilty Party” resembles Radiohead a bit too much for my taste, I found a way to appreciate it more than I have expected, probably because of the lyrics. The National did not disappoint with Sleep Well Beast. On the contrary, they proved that creative nerve in them is still able to facilitate great music.