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Album Review: The National’s ‘Sleep Well Beast’

The National
“Sleep Well Beast”
(4AD/Beggars Banquet)

Over the past 16 years this veteran indie quintet has quietly become one of the biggest bands in the country, and with their seventh album they’ve achieved the rare feat of releasing one of their best — if not the best — collection to date. The seasoning that comes with experience has paid off in spades here, as the group swings deftly between extremes, from slow and stately (the keyboard-driven songs like “Nobody Else Will Be There” and the title track) to more aggressive material (“The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness,” “I’d Still Destroy You”). The album’s lyrics, many of which were written by singer Matt Berninger with his wife Carin Besser, show a similar maturity and longview, addressing the ups and downs of long-term relationships with occasional unexpectedly hilarious results (as he sings in “The Day I Die”: “I used to put my head inside the speakers in the hallway when you’d get too high and talk forever”).

Berninger’s moody voice and the musicians’ melancholy melodies give the group’s music an omnipresent somber air no matter what style they’re playing, but their songwriting has become more streamlined and compact than ever — and by extension more effective and affecting.

Album Review: The National's 'Sleep Well Beast'

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