It’s hard to believe a band can release four perfect albums in a row, but that’s essentially what The National have accomplished over the past decade.
In essence, Sleep Well Beast is an attempt to shake up their restrained studio manner by incorporating electronic flourishes, including but not limited to drum loops. The resulting baubles are predictably tasteful, but also achieved the desired effect, making this album sound simultaneously natural and modern, and insulating the band from critics who say they’re too staid.
In addition to being critically adored, Sleep Well Beast is likely to widen The National’s already substantial popular appeal, showcasing new directions without compromising on what they always do so well (arresting vocals, idiosyncratically memorable lyrics, and entwined guitars, all powered by a propulsive rhythm section).
As good as the first half of the album is, for me Sleep Well Beast really gets going with the one-two of “Empire Line” into “I’ll Still Destroy You,” the latter receiving a totally apropos video featuring slow-motion footage of a frenetic party that perfectly renders the song’s liftoff around the four-minute mark.