When The National first appeared on my radar, it was because my new found best friend proudly claimed them as her favourite band. As we listened to tracks off High Violet, I remember asking, “Does the beat ever drop? Does anything ever happen?” I really didn’t understand the hype and dismissed them almost immediately. I ignored them when they played (the late) Vector Arena, and let said best friend go alone to jam to what I wrongly believed were their dull beats and drone-y vocals. I continued to love my best friend, of course, though I seriously questioned her music taste.
What a fool I was.
Probably around 3 years later, The National were announced as headliners for Auckland City Limits – a festival I was set to attend with my aforementioned tiny best friend. Unwilling to either ditch the tiny human or stand through an hour + long set that I was sure to hate, I pushed myself to give them another shot. What I found was Lemonworld. England. Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks. Graceless. All of a sudden, I saw the light. I was completely obsessed.
I might be late to the party, and sure, O.G fans of The National might hate me for not instantly recognising the genius that is Matt Berninger, but when they announced their new album Sleep Well Beast and released the first track Guilty Party, I jumped on that train like it was taking me to a giant pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Next thing I knew, I was listening to the album in full. Oh boy, are you guys in for a treat.
This time around, The National have taken their classic sound that we all know and (now) love, and amped it up 10 fold, adding new, unexpected elements that have kept the band fresh and relevant. Most tracks break the boundaries of the 3-4 minutes that is generally expected of pop/rock songs, giving the band time to create depth through layering a number of sounds on top of one another. As you listen to the album on repeat, and peel away the layers one by one, you are sure to find some new element of the track to sink your teeth into.
The record offers a wonderfully well-rounded combination of soft, emotional tracks, dance tracks, and upbeat rock tracks – all of which showcase The National that stole our hearts in the first place, but all of which bring something new to the table as well. Opening track Nobody Else Will Be There truly feels like coming home and has your heart racing until its slow fade out, yet the use of catchy synths in Walk It Back proves that there is nothing stagnant about this band, and that the four years we have had to wait for a new record has been well worth the wait as they take us into a new, different, and (dare I say it?) better era of The National.
Born to Beg is the most vulnerable track on the album, its piano driven foundations reminiscent of tracks such as England, laying down a defenceless heart that will do almost anything that is asked of it. In almost direct contrast, tracks such as Turtleneck take you on a totally different journey, instead being upbeat, and accessible to the masses with its undeniable catchiness. The National really do seem to be able to write something for everyone, as shown when they then create an anthemic vibe with Empire Line, a song that is sure to be a crowd fave should they choose to add it to their extensive setlist. The band incites uninhibited dancing with tracks such as I’ll Still Destroy You, which incorporates an incredibly cool drum solo as the song draws to a close. If one track isn’t up your alley, you’re still sure to find at least one that appeals directly to your soul.
Throughout the record, Matt’s vocals range from being creamy and smooth to rough and sexy, truly pushing himself to his limits with each and every note. Throughout the 12 tracks, I cried, I danced, and I often found myself head-to-toe covered in goosebumps. It is an album that awakens all of your senses. Despite what 19 year-old Yasmin may have thought, whether the beat drops or not, there is nothing dull about The National’s music. Sleep Well Beast is eclectic and deep, and it will no doubt replace everyone’s existing favourite album by their favourite band.