The National — Sleep Well Beast ANALYSIS & REVIEW
To describe music as being “dark” always has several different meanings to it that can normally be better explained in more specific terms. This album, though, is dark in nearly every sense. From the reliance on low, gravelly, and masked tones to the lyrical themes to the absence of familiar pacing within this kind of work, this is not something to be taken lightly. For the most part, the experiments within this unique space for a rock band provided enough interest and surprise to carry the listener through the work, with some effort required by the listener to take it in plainly as it is.
Unrelated to their dark expressiveness and creative sound organization was the most successful element on average, which were the harmonic patterns that provided recognizable ground and motion needed with this kind of atmosphere. The several times where the harmony not only gave motion but also a strong progression with timely arrivals on the dominant or sub-dominant ultimately made a few songs stand out and find a good level of intrigue, such as “Nobody Else Will Be There” and” Turtleneck”. As far as the sound and delivery goes, not everything was exceptional. Despite achieving a unified unique atmosphere, some musical decisions left more to be desired.
The most obvious and persistent one was the solo vocal tessitura. It did its job to accentuate the dark undertone of the work with its low and heavy tone, and there’s something to be said for deciding to stay in a comfortable range, but musically the vocals never gave off a sense of tension or spirit that would have given this music more importance. Not many besides Leonard Cohen or Tom Waits can deliver that in that low range. Being the most exposed layer in the sound, it disappointed in delivering any multi-layered meaning, sounding almost too comfortable. This decision also hindered melodic shape at times, since the instrument carrying the melody nearly always sounded shackled and unwilling to move.
Melody as a whole entity could never find a life of its own, being void of any motivic development or memorability. However, it was certainly successful in tying the work together as one simple, dark, understandable work, which was important to a degree. I enjoyed it for the most part, but I’m beginning to sense a pattern in works like this that lie in this particular range of my scores, from 130–135. It has enough overall quality to be deemed a success, but not enough for me to ever get excited about listening to again or be able to give my full recommendation on. I’m a bit baffled on the huge attention it’s getting, but it’s certainly not upsetting to me. It’s a quality experience for anyone for enjoys slow, moody, and experimental-leaning modern music.