Com­ing clean

The US quin­tet’s first of­fer­ing in four years, mainly recorded at Aaron Dess­ner’s new home stu­dio. By Mike Barnes.

Mojo (UK) - - News -

The Na­tional Sleep Well Beast 4AD. CD/DL/LP

THERE HOPE­FULLY comes a point in ev­ery band’s life where they sud­denly hit their stride, where their in­stru­men­tal chops and creativ­ity are in sync, and all this chimes with the ex­pec­ta­tions of their au­di­ence. For The Na­tional it was 2010 when they re­leased the big sell­ing High Vi­o­let. As a stylis­tic tem­plate it was a cu­ri­ous mix of the in­tro­verted and the epic, a shad­owy and brood­ing sound with gui­tars and elec­tron­ics stirred by Bryan Deven­dorf’s cir­cling drum pat­terns into an in­ward-look­ing dy­namic that makes the group’s con­sid­er­able power feel oddly in­ter­nalised. The fol­low-up, 2014’s Trou­ble Will Find Me, had much in com­mon with its pre­de­ces­sor, al­though it had a bit­ter­sweet, lighter, more open sound. In an­tic­i­pa­tion of Sleep Well Beast, all The Na­tional’s up­com­ing UK tour dates are sold out. But this time round they made a point of look­ing at their mu­sic from dif­fer­ent an­gles

– even invit­ing mem­bers of the pub­lic to jam along with back­ing tracks in some Ber­lin ses­sions to gen­er­ate ideas. Al­though they haven’t, to use a phrase, fucked with the for­mula ex­actly, this new ma­te­rial finds them in more ex­per­i­men­tal mode No­body Else Will Be There is a som­bre pi­ano based over­ture and then we are into more fa­mil­iar ter­ri­tory on Day I Die, with per­pet­ual mo­tion drums and or­na­men­tal gui­tar ar­chi­tec­ture from Aaron and Bryce Dess­ner. There’s high drama on Turtle­neck, with its sweep­ing cho­ruses and wah-wah gui­tars mouthing li­cen­tious kisses, but Sleep Well Beast is gen­er­ally less overtly gui­tar based, with a lot of ac­tiv­ity go­ing on un­der the sur­face – par­tic­u­larly key­boards, sam­ples and Bryce Dess­ner’s strings. On Born To Beg a pi­ano plays sim­ply against an elec­tronic pulse with vo­cal­ist Matt Berninger backed by what sounds like an eerily pro­cessed gospel choir. Berninger says that, lyri­cally speak­ing, Sleep Well Beast is about “com­ing clean with things you’d rather not” and he cer­tainly seems to have dredged up some re­mark­able stuff from his subconscious. Over the gen­tly throb­bing drums and synths and finely etched gui­tar lines of Walk It Back he sings, “I’ll walk through Lawrence­town, along the tracks/My own body in my arms but I won’t col­lapse”, in­ton­ing the song as if per­plexed by his own find­ings. Berninger seems in touch with his id once more on the sin­is­ter but breezily melodic I’ll Still De­stroy You, and mut­ters his way through sim­i­lar lyri­cal con­cerns on the ti­tle track like an ac­tor in a mum­blecore movie. Syn­thetic and real drum beats bounce around like bas­ket­balls in an in­tri­cately wrought sound­scape of looped flute and he­lium-high vo­cal phrases, elec­tron­ics, pi­ano and some creaky gui­tar play­ing. It’s all

beau­ti­fully put to­gether and closes the al­bum with The Na­tional gaz­ing fur­ther into the fu­ture.

The Na­tional: it’s all go­ing on un­der the sur­face.

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