The National analyzes love gone wrong in Sleep Well Beast

The band’s new album has reached No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and No. 1 in the U.K.

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Fans of indie rock’s resident pessimists The National have been waiting for new music from the group since its 2013 critically acclaimed album Trouble Will Find Me. The band finally released its anticipated seventh record, Sleep Well Beast, on Sept. 8, and it did not disappoint.

Musical complexities and literary lyrics have always been part of The National’s signature style, but never to this degree. Sleep Well Beast is one of the best albums released in 2017. The National has layered the story so that each listen of this album reveals something new.

In perhaps his most personal and emotional record yet, lead singer Matt Berninger explores a failing marriage by dissecting it and finding where it went wrong. From the first piano riff, the record explores all of the self-doubt, guilt and pain that come with growing and becoming different people than the ones who fell in love.

Oftentimes, the album gave me the feeling that I was overhearing a private conversation between Berninger and his wife. His lyrics here are some of his most open and genuine. Listening to Berninger’s baritone croon tell of his painful separation felt strangely like an intrusion. This quality is what sets The National apart from other indie-rock bands.

Berninger has said that his lyrics would not be possible without the musical genius of fellow members Aaron and Bryce Dessner. Sleep Well Beast has left space for each instrument to be a singular piece while still maintaining a melodically interesting composition, interacting like characters in a story. From the urgent guitar riffs in “The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness” to the simple piano progression in “Carin at the Liquor Store” and everything in between, the music does everything right.

The album is emotionally exhausting to listen to but too beautiful not to. The album’s finale and title track, “Sleep Well Beast," reaches its climax when the narrator repeats four times "I’ll still destroy you someday, sleep well, beast. You as well, beast.” The National has never been one to hold anything back, and Sleep Well Beast is no exception.

Edited by Claire Colby | ccolby@themaneater.com

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