Sleep Well Beast by The National
Duh. You expected this album to be ranked up this high on the Top 31, I’m sure. I’m fairly predictable when it comes to The National. Their last two albums, Trouble Will Find Me in 2013 and High Violet in 2010 were ranked #2 and #1 in their respective years. The fact that Sleep Well Beast, the band’s lovely seventh album, is ranked #4 is unusually low for them.
But wow, this album. It matters not that the album doesn’t stray into the rhythmically unique as much as the band did on Trouble or 2007’s Boxer. What stands out on this album are the way the band breaks character, ever so slightly. There’s a crack in the wall of their shine, a subtle but purposeful shift from “mechanically clean” to “slightly smudged” — as if they’re the muscle car whose owner has decided it’s time to pull the muffler off.
The usual sound from The National is there. Matt Berninger’s baritone hangs ever-so-beautifully over the orchestrated output from the sets of brothers, Dessner and Devendorf. It’s not unusual for The National to get loud and raucous on stage, but their albums tend to be studied affairs. But where there is similarity on Sleep Well Beast, there is also divergence. Look at “Turtleneck,” for instance. This song stands out for its sheer brazenness — Berninger is practically yelling across the entirety of the song, reminding me of Nick Cave’s “Babe, I’m On Fire” (if you’ve not heard that 14+ minute rager of a song, I command you to go listen to it right now).
I’m not sure if you hold The National with the same high regard that I do. To many, they are the quintessential “dad rock” band, and, well, I’m a dad twice over, so… But I am surprised at their lack of superstardom all the same. This is a band that has produced solid album after solid album, getting better with age. If you’ve not yet heard this album, run out and change that right now. I’m sure it’ll convince you to change your opinion of them, for better or worse; nothing will be the same after you’ve heard it.
5. Soul of a Woman by Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings
6. Relaxer by Alt-J
7. Hot Thoughts by Spoon
8. Colors by Beck
9. Mental Illness by Aimee Mann
10. The Wild by The Rural Alberta Advantage
11. american dream by LCD Soundsystem
12. Crack-Up by Fleet Foxes
13. Famous Last Words by The True Loves
14. Cry Cry Cry by Wolf Parade
15. Pure Comedy by Father John Misty
16. Shake the Shudder by !!!
17. La La Land (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) by La La Land
18. The Underside of Power by Algiers
19. What Now by Sylvan Esso
20. 50 Song Memoir by The Magnetic Fields
21. Plunge by Fever Ray
22. DAMN. by Kendrick Lamar
23. Capacity by Big Thief
24. The Tourist by Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
25. CCFX EP by CCFX
26. Woodstock by Portugal. The Man
27. MASSEDUCTION by St. Vincent
28. On the Spot by Hot 8 Brass Band
29. A Deeper Understanding by The War on Drugs
30. Planetarium by Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner, & James McAlister
31. A Moment Apart by Odesza