We’ve turned to the National for being, well, moody: Matt Berninger’s baritone, sometimes (perceived to be) droning but often emotive nonetheless, powering a rumbly backdrop. We’ve come to expect nothing less from their seventh album, Sleep Well Beast, but then they pull a surprise on us: they try new things. A lot of new things. Things kick in suddenly, and often, and you get climaxes you don’t expect. We should’ve gotten the hint from “The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness”, which sounds as glitchy as the title suggests, not yielding to the National’s sweeping trademark. And that’s what the album is. There is no yielding, despite the “disruptive” new elements. It still sounds like a National record. You learn to enjoy, or perhaps live with, those little details. It’s like, “you know, fuck this, we’re still doing what we’re doing.” The lyrics say as much, even. [NB] | 4/5
In the past few years we’ve seen more relatively out-of-mainstream acts perform in Manila. Gone, it seems, are the times when the only foreign artists who would stop here are 60s and 70s bands targeting baby boomers, or the obviously big pop acts. Now we’ve had visits from Grimes, the xx and Tegan and Sara. We’ve had the Wanderland Festival last April, an attempt at bringing summer festival culture to the Philippines (albeit with half of the line-up being Aussie acts with, likely, a very small following). And, of course, there were the bigger acts, like Joss Stone at Malasimbo (which has been going on for a while and has been, so far, mostly under the radar) and, last month, the Killers.
There’s no reason to expect anything even vaguely groundbreaking from the National’s sixth album. Nope, that’s not a diss. There’s a very slight hint of progress between High Violet, their 2010 release that saw them get a bigger slice of attention, and Trouble Will Find Me. More of a build-on-what-you-have thing, surely. While Matt Berninger’s drawly-yet-not-droney baritone still carries the band’s cheesy-music-for-brooding-hipsters MO, the little details in the tracks – the gloomy kicker of “I Should Live In Salt”, the climax of “Heavenfaced”, the lush resignation of “Pink Rabbits” – give the record a variety that will keep the fans going. The National are still the National, and whether that’s a good or bad thing depends on where you are before this one came along. | 4/5