One of the more subtle and obscure aspects of really good acts is sustain in longevity. Some acts can tour for decades on end, some can pump out hits like an assembly line, and others can ride the wave of past successes with brief hints of quality and resonance. But the brotherly duo behind the ingenuity of The National is not that. They are not a massive arena, big festival, or strobe lights and confetti type group. They don’t release an album or hit single every two years and they certainly haven’t relied on their past successes to carry them into the sunset. And that alone is what makes them great.
Now, one thing that needs clarifying is that they do in fact tour, and quite extensively, and they frequently release music (all side projects considered), but all within reason and unparalleled quality. In fact, when the group tours, the assortment of venues, particularly for Sleep Well Beast supporting shows, are of a distinct margin and mystique (see 2017 tour list), and the same peculiarity echoes in side projects (see Day of the Dead, LNZNDRF, and EL VY). It’s a threshold for the group, and Sleep Well Beast is one thread woven into the bigger scheme. The only aspect that sets it apart is its stature.
Art rock is a brand that’s worked well as a badge of honor for years, but it’s outgrown the disposition and become more of an unspoken facet that nearly disservices and diminishes its more artful integrity. With a release like Sleep Well Beast attesting as the group’s most artful endeavor to date, songs like “Guilty Party” or “Born to Beg” naturally fit into a contemporary mold despite a seemingly departure from their old selves. And with salutations to the sound that got them here on songs like “Turtleneck” and the more hit-centric “Day I Die”, “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” is the perfect medium between progressive undercurrents and the group’s driving core. Paired with hints of crafty spastic guitar riffs and underlying piano parts, “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” rises among the rest as a marquee focal point for relevancy both old and new.
Departing at times, Sleep Well Beast incorporates elements that complement a modern endeavor, moreover turning a shoulder with the ambition of creating something entirely new. Piano is one instrument that pokes it’s head above the clouds as a basis for the creative process. Yet on top of this somewhat recent emphasis, songs like “Guilty Party”, “Born to Beg”, and “Empire Line” incorporate the entire original powering ingredients of driving drums, spacey guitar, and ambient/noise. Where Sleep Well Beast is as true to it’s roots as it is outlandishly unique, it undoubtedly magnifies the sheer talent of individual members over its predecessors. While pushing the needle further towards the endless possibilities of sound and composition, Sleep Well Beast doesn’t stray far from the road that got them here. With Berringer’s story-telling vocals laying on top of the backing band, whether ambient synth nodes or the pounding and spastically intricate drum parts from Bryan Devendorf, never has the talent of the band been on display quite like Sleep Well Beast.
A very much solidified and thorough classic from a group of veterans. Few relevant musicians match their talent, and fewer combine for the talent of the group as a whole. Sleep Well Beast sits like the sweeter and delicate reminder on top of a catalog that frankly speaks worlds in and of itself. At least, much more than anyone can put on paper.