In Lizzy Goodman’s excellent book, Meet Me in the Bathroom, The National are cast as lesser characters in the NY/Brooklyn scene of the early 2000s. While The Stokes, Interpol and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs hit the ground running, The National took longer to find their footing. But over time, they have risen above their more popular colleagues from that era to become critical darlings and festival favourites. Back in September the National released their seventh studio album, Sleep Well Beast. Their last album, 2013’s Trouble Will Find Me, felt like the end of a trilogy which would make this a new beginning or at least a transitional one.
Second track “Day I Die” has a guitar line that sounds air lifted from The Kings of Leon with an instantly classic chorus. The sung/talked “Walk It Back” has an electronic blip running through it and first single “the System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” replaces the blip with a squiggly guitar line. “Empire Line” starts a string of classic National songs that runs through the great “Guilty Party” and ends with “Carin at the Liquor Store”, that features their usual trick of sounding both melancholy and uplifting at the same time.
Unlike the past few releases, Sleep Well Beast has a few tracks that when listened to individually are a bit dull (“Born to Beg” and “Turtleneck”) but when run right through, are less noticeably cast as missteps. Where the last three albums felt more concise, Sleep Well Beast meanders here and there – a guitar squall here, an electronic flourish there, a few tracks that go on for a few minutes longer than they need to, etc. However, there are enough good moments on every track that makes this another great album from The National.