Sleep Well Beast (4AD/Remote Control)
THE NATIONAL ARE quite special. Let’s start with a list of things they can do rather well and, it will not surprise you to hear, are doing well again here.
Making slow music fraught and tender, rather than funereal or simplistic, which doesn’t try to soothe, but does; doesn’t try to hurt, but does. And convincing you there’s a restless momentum within them that is the point of life itself.
Creating intimacy that feels open but starkly personal, so much so that you feel embarrassed to have walked in on it. And then you return for more because even when elliptical this just feels close to your bone, close to your home.
Wonder if there’s really a way for love to stick out the year, the decade, the life. And then make songs which you want to play to someone with whom you’ve shared the past year, decade, life.
Make guitars workhorses rather than showponies, but always with subtlety and invention rather than plodding, so that it isn’t always clear those are guitars. And then remind you how authoritative and descriptive those guitars can be in creative hands.
Create a palpable sexiness out of drum patterns and basslines that feel like body movements. And then add a deep-voiced singer whose voice is, well, sexy, but something more full-spirited than just a body and its press.
Let’s add this list a few things The National do differently, or do for the first time here, which may surprise you.
Take guitars as power tools and light weapons, undisguised and unfiltered, and let them have their way. And then have orchestrated sections which feel like both showponies and workhorses, so that music can come in rips rather than tides.
Build anger into the infrastructure of some songs so that their expression emerges as a natural outflow not a sudden burst of expression. And make those moments come from a wider source – let’s say a certain orange-skinned buffoon and the class/race malaise from which he sprang, playing in the background of thoughts – without ever losing touch with the smaller, one-on-one interactions.
Elevate electronic drums and programs in ways that feel as if some rigidity will appear, as if patterns are normal, are right. And then shift the organic elements so that the mechanical things are part of internal discussions, not counter arguments, like the interplay of sampled film dialogue in one song.
Now, let’s conclude with something The National leave with you.
An understanding that isn’t mere melancholy (though it’s there), or reactive responses (though you see it), or even shaded beauty (yes, that’s here), but a concurrence of things felt almost within muscle and ligament. And then shared.
The National are quite special.