In their 18th year together, indie-rock band The National have come out with another album: Sleep Well Beast. Formed in Ohio in 1999, the band released their first album in 2001 and have been chugging along since then, gaining acclaim as they go. Their most recent album, Trouble Will Find Me, came out in 2013 and was nominated for Best Alternative Music Album at the 56th Grammy Awards. But the band isn’t just focused on music, and has been using its fame in productive ways, including expressing support for Obama’s reelection in 2012 by playing free concerts at universities to encourage students to vote and hosting gigs for various charities including Planned Parenthood over the years. Sleep Well Beast is The National’s seventh album.
The National introduced four singles prior to the release of the album: “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness,” “Carin at the Liquor Store,” “Guilty Party,” and “Day I Die,” which come alive with the same eccentric sounds as previous albums while incorporating certain new ones. For example, “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” includes a guitar solo that we seldom hear in The National songs, if at all. “Carin at the Liquor Store” has emphatic piano parts played by Aaron Dessner that are central to the band’s sound.
The lyrics are melancholy, intimate, and, as lead singer Matt Berninger puts it in an interview, “goofy,” all at the same time. The album can be considered political, Berninger says, in that it does address political topics, for example in the lyrics for the song “Turtleneck.” “The poor, they leave their cell phones in the bathrooms of the rich,” which refers to Trump’s toilet tweeting. “Turtleneck” is one of the more surprising songs of the album, with a wild sound and lyrics. Other songs delve into relationships, such as in “Empire Line,” where Berninger sings, “I’ve been talking about you to myself cause there’s nobody else,” talking about long distance relationships. “The Dark Side of the Gym” is more of a love song than is usual for the band, and it moves away from the gloom with backup singer Lisa Hannigan singing a duet with Berninger. “I’m going to keep you in love with me for awhile.”
Sleep Well Beast is exciting, intimate, and well worth listening to. If you’re interested in seeing The National live, they will be in D.C. on December 5 at The Anthem.
Photos from The National Facebook page