The National’s “Sleep Well Beast”, as reviewed by Rishi Deva
This modern world is so fast-paced, we have become conditioned to expect instant gratification. If a website does not load in two seconds we move on. If a song does not grab our attention in the first few bars, we skip to the next. If the news doesn’t capture our attention, we flip the channel.
Conversely, there is nothing fast about The National. They started releasing albums in 2001 and it’s been a slow build. They started to find their way to the charts almost nine years later with the release of High Violet.
Their 16-year trajectory has brought them to the top of the charts. They debuted their new record Sleep Well Beast at number 2 on Billboard; the album also hit number 1 in several territories. It’s an amazing feat because there is nothing especially new about this American indie rock band’s sound. Just like all their other great records, Sleep Well Beast has no pop singles and likely no radio songs. So how did these middle-aged, slow-building rockers manage to become so relevant in this era of instant and fast? Like fine wine and a pair of perfect-fitting Levi’s 501 jeans, the music just keeps getting better the more time you spend with it.
For avid music consumers, albums and singles are governed by the law of diminishing returns. Records can start out feeling like they’re worth their weight in gold, but don’t stand up to repeated listens. After a while, the gold seems more like copper, or even sawdust. The National is one of those rare bands whose music breaks this formula. There simply is no diminished return with any of their albums. Sleep Well Beast is true to form.
The band and its relationship with music remind me of yoga. Neither too tense nor too slack, it’s that perfect balance where breath, space and relaxed effort merge. It becomes so natural it almost sounds effortless, yet so much attention to detail shows an extraordinary amount of effort.
The National is staple road trip music for Parvati’s and my tour van, with many of their albums on our playlists. Musically they sound nothing like Parvati, yet they remind me of her in the sense that the music is never stiff or stale, and they balance roots with buoyancy. Their sonic palette is full and immersive. The lead vocal never dominates, but steadily swims through a sea of sustain-pedalled piano, synths and reverberating guitar licks. Lead singer and lyricist Matt Berninger neither stands apart from, nor wallows in, the emotions of the song. He relates his words gently, while the orchestration carries us through the open and raw feelings of it all. With The National’s music, you’re always in it up to your heart. If you’ve ever walked down the street, said hi to people, and bought your newspaper at the corner market, all very conversationally, while inside you were nothing but a pure river of sorrow and confusion from a breakup, then you know the place The National can take you with their music.
Berninger says, “Personally I just wanted to make songs that I would listen to.” Sleep Well Beast feels like a beautiful, poetic and honest diary exploration. Its intimate maturity tackles life’s triumphs and tribulations. It reaches for love and light through sometimes dark places. In a world where everything is changing so fast, it is a relief to be able to continue to enjoy this band and the music they take their time to write, produce and release.
Rishi Deva is the CEO of Kupid’s Play Records. With two decades of experience in the music industry, Rishi has been nominated for numerous marketing awards and earned a Gold Record in the music industry for management.