Name: “Sleep Well Beast”
Artist: The National
Release date: September 2017
Favorite track: "The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness"
The National’s “Sleep Well Beast” brings to mind those demotivational posters I saw so frequently in college dorm rooms.
Example: Teamwork — Ensuring that your hard work can always be ruined by someone else’s incompetence.
The National slaughters any sense of joy in life in a raw, passionate manner. After all, lead vocalist Matt Berninger just takes up “a little of the collapsing space” in this world, as he says somberly in “Walk it Back.” To me, it’s what the record is about — humans occupying spaces that are all tainted with imperfection.
It’s depressing. It’s anxious. It’s scared. It’s devoid of emotion entirely.
I’ve always liked this rock band, mostly because of its emotional landscape — what every lyric reflects. I’ve read many reviews claiming this is the band’s breakout album, but I feel it’s only a continuation of fantastic records such as “High Violet” in 2010, “Trouble Will Find Me” in 2013 and my favorite, “Boxer.” My co-worker, sports editor Seth Stringer, recently picked up “Boxer Live in Brussels,” an exclusive Record Store Day release. I approve.
The first day it was released, I read a review claiming “Sleep Well Beast” was the best rock album of the year. It might be.
But, that’s operating under the notion that every year The National releases an album, it's the best of that year.
I listened to “Sleep Well Beast” the day it released and was initially drawn only into “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness,” which is clearly a long-winded title. I wasn’t surprised when it was released as the album’s first single.
What I like about this song is the sound of frustration to the point of desperation — the feeling every person in any type of relationship experiences. The lyrics feel passionate and relatable.
I thought that this would all work out after a while
Now you’re saying that I’m asking for too much attention
Also no other faith is light enough for this place
We said we’d only die of lonely secrets
— “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness”
After three or four more listens, every track stood out in a different way.
The opening track, “Nobody Else Will Be There,” sets a melancholy precedent that lingers throughout the record. While the song’s lyrics imply the subject will meet someone in a private place, I interpret it differently. Instead of hearing the words, “Nobody else will be there,” I hear, “I’ll be alone.”
“Day I Die” follows up on this message. Nothing will have changed in his relationships with others or himself, not even on his dying day.
He will still be alone.
The piano weaves this album into a lovely, somber and cohesive piece. It is more experimental than others before it in that it introduces songs with 10 to 30 seconds of synthesizers.
“Turtleneck” is an outlier or, better yet, an outburst. It puts sound to the panic of trying a ring on your finger, only to realize you can’t get it off. It’s the most obvious politically driven track.
“Empire Line” puts the record back on its tracks, again lyrically trying to restore a relationship that remains stagnant. Progress is absent.
Also, while the album is only 12 tracks, it has two vinyl records with songs on both sides. I actually like this a lot, because mine are a beautiful shade of bright blue — two for the price of one.
The National collaborated with Pentagram, a large design firm, on the promotional materials for “Sleep Well Beast.” This was a good move.
The record in its entirety — the sleeve, insert, vinyl, poster and other marketing materials — has a muted red, white and blue color scheme. It’s eye-catching. My record is composed of an insanely electric blue vinyl I can’t stop staring at. But, I’ve seen it on white vinyl, too.
The album cover is dark and grim, perfectly harnessing the gritty emotions in this record. The art features a simplistic five-sided house inspired by the barn in Hudson, New York, where the album was recorded.
The concept behind the design was to create the cold, heartless and simplistic feel of a corporation. In reality, this was a joke in contrast to the band’s true personality and craftsmanship, according to Dezeen.com.
Hey, I'm Savannah. I collect records, and they collect dust. Like my preferred media form, I strive to not become obsolete. I created Off the Record as a way to turn my mind inside out, into something visual and tangible. One is the loneliest number, so I asked my friends to join.