Ohio-based indie rock band, The National, aren’t known for their happy sunshine anthems. They are known for their moody, many times dark, soliloquies with a pulsing rhythmic backbeat and swelling, beautiful, instrumentation. They take influences from many places. The flawless incorporation of those influences into their songs is the catalyst for their success. On Sleep Well Beast, their first album in four years, The National delivers an especially moody and dark body of work with tinges of their indie rock roots with some extra goth flavor.
This album takes a bit from a couple different songbooks but it manages to remain under the umbrella of The National. “Guilty Party” is a slow burner, with a repeated drum pattern akin to The Cure. Layers of synth and piano are added and it crescendos with a twinkling guitar part towards the end. It is one of the best parts of the album and their take on this style of song could fill a whole album.
The band does not allow themselves to get snug in one musical category and continue to keep it fresh with some different, more straightforward guitar-heavy indie music, like the song “Turtleneck.” This song is once again reminiscent of The Cure in its structure and its placement on the album. The differences come in the vocal delivery. Instead of the crooning of Robert Smith, the listener gets a monotone voice basically speaking the lyrics as if reading them off a sheet of paper. The lack of emotion only works in the favor of the band because of the moods they convey with the music. The vocal choice solidifies and puts a stamp on how these songs are supposed to be delivered.
It may be obvious based on the comparisons given to this album, but this is not an album for an adrenaline junkie. Not to say it’s boring, but the album never really breaks through a certain amount of energy and just when it hits that big chorus, it goes back down. When it goes down, it’s slow and poignant, with sparse but cutting lyrics. Not the place to go for an upbeat singalong, but definitely a good way to make the walk to school feel like an indie film—and is also a good choice of tunes to stare at the ceiling in the bedroom.
This is the type of record that is there when the listener needs to hear it. If they want to put into the mood of this record, they can throw it on, or if already feeling that way, it’s good to hear. This record is a good morning record and because it is so vulnerable and dark, it can also be good to put on whenever some thinking time is needed.
Verdict: On this new record, The National has shown an expert level of songwriting. Every song having something to offer and conveying the same mood, regardless of actual structure or instrumentation. They took their time writing it and the product is definitely a great listen, but it may not be best for the days when the sun is shining.
Best Tracks : “Guilty Party”, “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness”, “Dark Side of the Gym”