Album Review: The National – Sleep Well Beast

By Emily DiAlbert, Contributor
[4AD; 2017]
Rating: 7.5/10

Key Tracks: “Empire Line”, “Carin at the Liquor Store”, “Sleep Well Beast”

Sleep Well Beast, the seventh studio album by the indie-rock band The National, delivers a chaotic-yet-beautiful glimpse into the life and relationship of angsty frontman Matt Berninger. Berninger and his wife Carin wrote the record together and delivered mesmerizing songs that demonstrate the whirl-wind roller coaster of romantic relationships. Highlighted through Berninger’s gruff, smoky voice, the album evokes emotions in the listeners that they didn’t know existed. Accompanying the lyrics, the music’s rough guitar, luminous synths and steady orchestral sounds lead listeners to reflect upon past and present relationships and question what it really means to care for someone.

The opening track “Nobody Else Will Be There”, gives listeners a dreamy sneak-peek into Berninger’s marriage. The song begins with a slow drum beat that progresses into a screechy-flute sound, that is accompanied by steady piano chords. The short instrumental introduction evokes a sentimental feeling in listeners that is both intriguing and thought-provoking. Once Berninger begins singing, listeners quickly realize the song serves as a soft, loving ode to his wife. With lyrics like “Goodbyes always take us half an hour / Can’t we just go home?”, Berninger shows that he never wants to leave his love. After this glimmering ballad, listeners don’t want to leave her either.

Another track deserving full praise is “Empire Line”. The track starts off fast and steady, seeming to mimic the sound of an approaching train in New York City (The Empire Train Service, hence the track’s name). Berninger uses the train as a metaphor to describe a distancing love between him and his wife. As the song progresses, his powerful voice and lyrics, accompanied by a steady beat and squeaky guitar, provoke listeners to reflect upon relationships both past and present. Despite focusing on a love falling apart, the tone of the track is highly optimistic, showing Berninger’s hope for his relationship; this forces reflecting listeners to have hope for their relationships, too.

To finish off the emotional record, Sleep Well Beast concludes with its title track. The song is best described as a neurotic mess of instrumentals that fit together into a seamlessly-beautiful piece of art that deserves to be hung in The Met. Berninger brings the rollercoaster of his and Carin’s relationship to a slow, steady halt. A mix of screeching guitar, creeping piano notes and Berninger’s dark voice reassure listeners that the beast in Berninger’s relationship is leaving and that things will be alright despite seemingly never-ending hardships. The song is so soothing, it finally allows listeners to take a deep, relaxing breath after experiencing the whirlwind of emotions provoked by the album.

Overall, Sleep Well Beast is an album that one will need to emotionally prepare themselves to listen to. The album is very capable of evoking intense, powerful feelings about the past, present and future romances that some may not be able to take in all at once. With that being said, the album deserves a standing ovation for being able to bring out so many feelings in any listener. The National delivered an enticing album that listeners will not want to end.

Listen here:

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