Albums by The Nationwide are like your pleasant neighborhood lush: In simply an hour or so, they’re in a position to drink you underneath the desk, say one thing profound sufficient to make the entire bar weep, then stumble out into the pre-dawn, proud and ashamed in equal measure. Additionally they are typically sneaky, each lyrically and musically—it’s type of their trick, to insinuate themselves slowly over time, showing at first to be extra meditative and fewer hooky than they really are. The band’s seventh album in simply shy of 20 years as a band is extra direct with each its phrases and sounds. That is smart, given these indignant, miserable occasions: There’s not numerous room for resignation and even endurance when it feels just like the world—political for positive, and within the case of this album, private—is falling aside. Can these issues be spun into related, redemptive music? That’s tough enterprise, however within the case of The Nationwide, turmoil has all the time been potent gasoline, and Sleep Properly Beast is the band’s fifth album in a row that feels important, linked, and unflinching.
It begins, although, nearly imperceptibly, with a slowly rising, vaguely digital beat, as if it’s creeping into the room. That’s the even-more-Leonard Cohen-esque-than-usual “No person Else Will Be There,” pushed by a easy beat—a motif right here—and bare-bones piano line. It’s Sleep Properly Beast’s first examination of a relationship on the rocks, fueled by acquainted contempt, and a beautiful instance of singer Matt Berninger’s specialty: the one-sided dialog. “Can’t we simply go dwelling?” he quietly pleads. That tune packs a brutal one-two punch with the far more quick, harrowing, spectacularly catchy “Day I Die,” which begins, “I don’t want you / I don’t want you / Apart from I barely even see you anymore.” The equally haunting sluggish burner “Responsible Get together” additionally goes down that street, echoing Dave Mason’s 1977 breakup hit “We Simply Disagree” (solely, y’know, good). Berninger just lately told a worried NPR interviewer that, while Sleep Well Beast has threads of divorce running through it, his relationship with his wife/frequent lyrical collaborator Carin Besser is solid. Phew.
But the pressure isn’t just about growing up or growing old: The National has always been actively political, but rarely very direct about it. “Turtleneck,” while it doesn’t actually name Donald Trump, is clearly born from the frustration of our times. (“Just another man in shitty suits that everybody’s cheering for.”) It also features the album’s second guitar solo, after the ’80s-rock one in “The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness.” Guitar solos aren’t at all typical for The National, but neither is it unwelcome—these are drastic times. And while the primal scream of “Turtleneck” isn’t Sleep Well Beast’s best song, it might be the most necessary.
The best comes down to a race between “I’ll Still Destroy You” and “Carin At The Liquor Store.” The former feels like a statement: Abstract and spooky, it embraces the album’s near-constant electronic undercarriage more fully. It’s joyous, weird, and eventually heartbreaking, and then it wanders off into a minute-long jam, not just because it can, but because it clearly wants to. “Carin At The Liquor Store” is more in classic National mode, with inorganic beats replaced by a very human piano and Berninger’s baritone, close-up voice. It’s also one of the album’s only love songs—though of course, it comes at the subject sideways and desperately. It’s gorgeous.
The fair-yet-wrong criticism leveled at The National over the years has been that all of the band’s records sound the same (or, worse and even more wrong, that they’re boring and they all sound the same). Sleep Well Beast probably won’t change the minds of naysayers, though it may earn the asterisk of being “the one with slightly more electronic sounds.” But those invested in the band’s slow-motion refinement of simmering melancholy will find that they’ve discovered yet more fresh nuance to that sound, as they seem to every time. It’s by turns harsh and sweet, downcast and uplifting, angry and resigned. In spite of how quiet it can be, and what the title might instruct, Sleep Well Beast is never restful. In fact, it may be The National’s most agitated album yet.
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