The Weekend Australian - Review - - Music Reviews - Emily Ritchie Tim McNa­mara

Sleep Well Beast The Na­tional 4AD Af­ter al­most 20 years to­gether and a suc­cess­ful ca­reer at the fore­front of mod­ern rock, Ohio five-piece the Na­tional has com­posed its most co­he­sive of­fer­ing to date. Its sev­enth al­bum, Sleep Well Beast, weaves to­gether a myr­iad raw sound­scapes and ex­per­i­men­tal lyri­cism to paint a com­plex por­trait of midlife anx­i­ety. While each track stands alone im­pres­sively, the nar­ra­tive across the 12 tunes is a com­pelling re­flec­tion on mor­tal­ity and the fragility of re­la­tion­ships. This is an al­bum on which band mem­bers Matt Berninger, Aaron and Bryce Dess­ner, and Bryan and Scott Deven­dorf step be­yond the pre­vi­ously de­fined scope of what their band is meant to sound like. The band em­ploys far more elec­tronic el­e­ments than be­fore across the al­bum and jazzy brass over­tones turn up on the ti­tle track. Walk It Back and I’ll Still De­stroy You high­light this new direc­tion, har­bour­ing os­cil­lat­ing elec­tronic em­bel­lish­ments and dis­torted speech. Turtle­neck and Day I Die are two of the more in­tensely up-tempo tracks that still evoke the over­all vibe of nos­tal­gia, anger and sad­ness. Carin at the Liquor Store sounds like a song be­ing sung by a lonely ine­bri­ate at a bar pi­ano, and sparse rustling opens the al­bum on No­body Else will be There, be­fore de­light­fully emo­tive pi­ano and aching vo­cals from Berninger take over. The al­bum ends fit­tingly with a host of wind in­stru­ments and strings on the ti­tle track. Sleep Well Beast was recorded in a pur­pose-built stu­dio in a pas­toral area of up­state New York, with the quiet melan­choly of the phys­i­cal set­ting inevitably seep­ing through, and its iso­la­tion adding to the al­bum’s co­her­ence. Aus­tralians will get a chance to hear the al­bum live when the Na­tional tours here in Fe­bru­ary. mem­ber of synth-pop group Van She, and years spent liv­ing in Los An­ge­les. Here, dance­floor jams such as monster sin­gle Lay Down, with its key line and vo­cal hook, sit eas­ily along­side more laid­back fare such as Lose It All, whose warm, bub­bly bassline blends with per­cus­sive kick and vo­cals. It’s equal parts del­i­cate, dreamy and dance­able. First sin­gle No Other High, with its pop vibe, and Elec­tric Fields’s en­er­getic vo­cal scream sum­mer and are des­tined for big things, while Two Walls is beau­ti­ful, es­capist fare, as Di Francesco’s hur­ried beats con­trast with sooth­ing ef­fects and the vo­cal of Bris­bane up-and-comer Tori Zi­etsch. The Mystery of Cats is a slow jam, meld­ing chug­ging beats and bumpy synths, while Com­fort­able fea­tures the funk sen­si­bil­i­ties of LA pro­ducer Har­riet Brown. Epic closer Putting On Airs ben­e­fits from the pipes of Bronx singer Wills. It’s a fit­ting, tri­umphant end to an al­bum that proves worth the wait.

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