The National – Sleep Well Beast
For the past decade or so since the release of their breakthrough record Alligator, The National have been one of the most consistently brilliant indie bands, as step by step they have developed their trademark brand of bittersweet melancholy. Sleep Well Beast however is not just another step on that journey, it feels instead like an important waypoint. To compare to another member of the “consistent club”, this is their In Rainbows; just when you thought they had already hit you with their best shot long ago, they emerge out of the blue with the finest album of their career. Even for a band known for the maturity and wisdom of their work, this is their most enlightened record yet and plays like a culmination of their previous achievements.
While great albums either grab you straight away or grow on you over time (as many of their other albums did), this lies alone in the middle of the Venn diagram, somehow doing both at once. With the bombastic drums of ‘Day I Die’, the glitchy guitar of ‘The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness’, and the cathartic climax of album highlight ‘Guilty Party’, Beast‘s singles easily rank amongst the band’s finest and most memorable output. In between them however we find those tracks that get under your skin, shown best in the piano balladry of ‘Born To Beg’, and the devastating one-two combo of ‘Empire Line’ and ‘I’ll Still Destroy You’ which explore new electronic horizons. Never has an all-encompassing assault on the senses been so solemn and thoughtful. Just as silence can be deafening, so too can introspective albums best fan the emotional flames within your heart. The National tug at your heartstrings in a way that no one else does, and Sleep Well Beast does so like no other record of theirs has done before.