The National's "Sleep Well Beast", their seventh album and four years after 2013's "Trouble Will Find Me" is melancholic and dark just as all their previous efforts. Ditching the post-punk revival sound for a more indie rock tone, for better or for worse, The National furthermore create a more poppy and hook driven album with their latest effort.
The production is clean and dense, with poetic lyrics and intense instrumentation. Overall, The National is simply doing what they've been doing for years now, which is something they're very solid at by now. Compared to "Trouble Will Find Me", however, "Sleep Well Beast" has sharper lyricism and instrumentation, to make it an overall more enjoyable listen.
At times, however, this cannot save the album from still feeling too similar throughout its length, as they are technically just doing the same as they did with albums like "The Boxer" and "High Violet", just more unimaginative because of how long they've been trying for the same sound. Though it is still solid altogether, it seems at times like The National has run out of ideas.
The vocal melodies could be better, as the singing is rather uninteresting all too often, seeming like Berninger is mumbling more than singing. Only in songs like "Turtleneck" and "Day I Die" does the music and vocals get more energy, as The National finally realizes that they're a rock and punk based band again.
The sound The National is going for has already been beaten dead by artists such as Nick Cave, Interpol, and, ironically enough, themselves. They stood out from the crowd of boring dark post-punk indie rock at first with albums like "Alligator" and "The Boxer", but there's only so long they can keep creating the same sound before it gets boring and all sounds the same.
The hooks make up for this to a point, keeping the album interesting enough so that it doesn't drone on too much. Moments in songs such as "The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness" call back to the most interesting days of the band, showing that maybe The National still has it in them to create something incredible in the future, just not now.
For now, however, it just seems as if The National, especially Berninger, are too old to being doing this at this point. There's only so much middle aged crisis and melancholia one can take before it gets too cheesy and melodramatic, and you can't stand to listen to it anymore. Sometimes, a thoroughly mediocre album is worse than a bad one. This might be one of those cases.