The National Sleep Well Beast 4AD
10 years since their classic fourth LP Boxer, The National deliver what is perhaps their most atmospheric and self-indulgent music to date. Lead single The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness set the marker for a record that is both personal in its references to Matt Berninger’s marriage (the lyrics were co-written by Berninger’s wife, Carin Besser) and abstract in its cryptic depictions of the future.
Like most of The National’s work, the beauty is in its familiarity. I’ll Still Destroy You observes the all too recognisable dependency – whether weed or wine – towards substances to dull our daily troubles. The dry mastery of lines like, “The molecules and the caplets/ They all have something against me/ Nothing I do makes me feel different,” are typical of the lived-in ennui of middle-class guilt.
The narrators of Sleep Well Beast are creatures of habit, and perhaps hint at a broader social dilemma – an avoidance of responsibility in light of an age of Trumpian political upheaval. The group have always been outspoken liberals, so maybe it’s not such a far stretch to see the links between the beast’s desire to hibernate and our own attempts to ignore the implications of a right-swinging climate.
As Berninger sings in the chorus of The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness, ‘We’re in a different kind of thing now’. The National’s back-catalogue steps the line between matter-of-fact realism and existential dread, and Sleep Well Beast succeeds in pushing past the narcissisms and ironies of their previous album Trouble Will Find Me into a more expansive realm of abstract thought.