The National‘s seventh studio album Sleep Well Beast is a project steeped in tension and inner-turmoil. Darkness is the principal theme throughout, but instead of letting it consume them the Brooklyn kings of brood harness it, embracing it as a catalyst for change. In darkness lead singer Matt Berninger is able to find a glimmer of light, and he wraps the narrative around this hope in order to move forward. A daring lyrical journey from one end of the spectrum to the other.

For Berninger to pull off the transformation, he needed to frame that transitional moment where chaos slowly gives way to redemption. The potency of such an undertaking only works because of their unshakable chemistry, capturing the emotions in a proper light and then translating it into a palpable sonic energy. The National let it all out, willfully submitting to their demons in order to dismantle them from within.

Nobody Else Will Be There

Slow rolling percussion descends upon the scorched land like low lying storm clouds. New York is the backdrop, and the sights and sounds that once were so enticing are now distracting and a nuisance. He’s searching high and low, around every nook and cranny for a quiet moment, a chance to be silent and let intimacy take hold. An emotion is weighing on his mind and he needs to get it off his chest: [LISTEN]

Day I Die

The pace hastens and a flurry of pent-up frustration is unleashed, a torrent of ideas that reveal deep-seated scars. There was a relationship that once was fruitful, but after years of let downs he’s left feeling dry. Even when they are together there is an insurmountable rift that leaves both in a rut. In these moments he feels like his uncle, searching for answers at the bottom of a bottle: [LISTEN]

Walk it Back

Darkness falls again, but the lack of bright lights prove to be an asset. He’s delving into his psyche, allowing himself to explore a range of emotions; from pain and regret to hope. The world around him is collapsing and he’s living each day in the eye of the hurricane. Unsure of his life as it relates to the larger whole he sits back and sedates himself; removed from both himself and reality: [LISTEN]

The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness

The motif of darkness once again takes center stage. It is a catalyst for change, a grand force that brings truth to the forefront. The seething guitar scorches across the soundscape with ferocity, cleansing the land of all its inequity. The relationship has crumbled, apparently he was too needy. But the truth is far more complicated, and he is searching high and low for answers that make sense: [LISTEN]

Born to Beg

Gentle piano licks create a somber mood. It’s deep and introspective, a chance for him to analyze his place and make amends with the past. He’s taking a look at New York and its ever changing landscape as a way to reconcile his ideas. Reinventing the present to pave way for the future is a challenge that gets more difficult as the years go by. It’s taking its toll and he’s licking his wounds: [LISTEN]

Turtleneck

An explosive reaction to the political tomfoolery. Much of his lamenting has been internal and directed towards the self, and this is his way of not only venting out his frustrations but aiming them at an adversary who deserves the people’s rage. It’s not overt and he’s not naming names, but then again he doesn’t have to. The subtleties and the well-timed jabs say everything that needs to be said: [LISTEN]

Empire Line

A long and difficult journey that has him looking back and questioning everything. The sweet melodic tones create a bittersweet atmosphere, tantamount to looking out the window of a moving train. The landscape is tenderizing his heart, and he’s left wanting everything. His love is the source of both his pleasure and pain, and he’s looking to mend that wound with thoughts of compassion and desire:

I’ll Destroy You

The sweet elixir is one of the only things that can cure his ailing heart. It has a magnetic and strange allure, on one hand it’s exciting and primal and on the other it’s warm and as comforting as a mother’s embrace. The addictive nature only makes matters worse as it has a tendency to consume the mind, body and soul. He wants to put it away, but by the sound of it it still has a hold on him: [LISTEN]

Guilty Party

The broken beat and scattered samples simulate his feelings of disillusionment. He’s about to fall off a cliff, but then a soft piano melody enters the fray and brings him back off the ledge. It guides him to a moment of clarity and he realizes that despite all the arguing in the end it’s nobody’s fault. He’s taking the first step towards mending the pain that’s slowly been eating away at him: [LISTEN]

Carin at the Liquor Store

A striking moment of clarity that allows him to come to grips with his role in all the chaos. He’s asking that the blame be placed squarely on his shoulders, all in hopes of moving forward. The piano chords create a dense atmosphere, an emotive backdrop that expresses a profound breakthrough. Redemption is not far off, and he’s pushing himself so that she can see him in a different light: [LISTEN]

Dark Side of the Gym

Tenderhearted love ballads aimed at his doting sweetheart. It was a pure moment in time, and he’s looking to relive it over and over again. He was left speechless, but now that he’s got his head on straight he can finally say what he’s always wanted to say. He’s in love and being her knight in shining armor is the only thing on the agenda. A break in the action for a simple love song.

Sleep Well Beast

Closing out the album with abstract strokes, a collage of sights and sounds that amount to nothing in particular. He’s letting his imagination loose, and documenting all the madness that’s unfolding. Drunk on creativity his voice reaches a low rumble, a campfire tone that eases the tension in the air. All the formalities are done, and he’s ready to let them go and ride off into the sunset.