Headphones: The National Battle Their Demons

 Photo by Graham MacIndoe

Photo by Graham MacIndoe

One of indie-rock's most consistent bands, The National, ignited new fires on their phenomenal latest LP Sleep Well Beast. On this album, The National exchanges quiet subtleties and politeness for bone rattling rock 'n' roll. Also this week, Beck provided the soundtrack for your end of the summer rooftop party, and two incredible music videos keep your eyes glued to the screen. Time to put on your Headphones.

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Album of the Week: The National- Sleep Well Beast: The National have always had the reputation of a coffee-shop band; one that plays quietly and peacefully in the background of your hip local roastery. They've forever been pinned to the connotation of being slow-burning, restrained and even a little bit on the soft side. For years, this has been the case. However, on their latest full length, Sleep Well Beast, The National break the chain and allow themselves to fully unhinge from this peaceful perception with a snarl and blood on their teeth. 

Seeing The National live is often the factor that breaks any and all expectations of the band. You hear the songs in your headphones and they sound neat and tidy, highly organized and laid-back. But when you see them live, there is chaos and wild eccentricity in the performance. Most of that is brought by lead singer Matt Barringer. His on-stage persona is that of a self-destructive rock star, pushing himself to go that much harder through the show – chugging bottles of wine, breaking microphone stands and crowd walking. This wild persona finally finds its way onto the album, and the result is intense and beautiful.

The album features some of The National's most hectic songs to date, while still maintaining their specific sound. Lead single, "The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness" is an impossibly catchy, rapidly-building rock song, complete with an awesome guitar riff dancing on the surface. The song "Day I Die" is led by rumbling drums and skittering electric guitar licks that shroud Barringer's cool croon. The song snaps and thumps and takes unexpected turns as the band guides you to the dance floor. 

It's on "Turtleneck" that The National fully go unhinged. The song breaks through with wild guitars sprawling and rumbling bass lines while Barringer leads the almost-punk song. Barringer sings, "The poor leave their phones in the bathroom of the rich," a line he explained to allude to the current president's inclination to tweet while sitting on the toilet. Meanwhile, guitars screech in the background as the song divulges into pure madness. The song verges on destruction with each building second, the train could careen off the tracks at any time, but somehow doesn't. 

The National have always been the kind of band to soundtrack a dinner party or a snowy walk home through the darkness of night in the wintertime. Sleep Well Beast sounds like it fits into that same vein, while allowing itself to be completely unique and standalone. It's a new phase. It's The National's break-free era, one where they're not so restrained and tied to their preconceived notions. They utilize so many crafty production tricks and fly all over the place on this album, making it truly exceptional. For a band that's produced a consistent sound for so many years, it's inspiring to see a transition where they allow themselves to break the mold and show their teeth a bit.  

Single of the Week: Beck - "Up All Night": Beck has always seemed like that goofy guy at the party, you know the one. He wears his funkiest disco shirt and dances all night even though the moves just aren't there. But it doesn't matter because when you see him – out there flailing on the dance floor – what you see is someone having the best possible time, and it breaks you out of your shell to do the same. 

On his latest single "Up All Night," Beck made a song that soundtracks those late night rooftop parties, those car rides through the city with friends dancing in the backseat, the nights out on the town you never want to end. The song bounces like a rubber ball into the stratosphere with a funky bass line and hand-clappy percussion before exploding into a fun-as-hell chorus. Beck might be his goofiest on this new album, and it's easily the most entertaining he's ever sounded.

 

Music Videos of the Week

Miguel - "Skywalker": If there was ever a cooler party than the one in this video, I've never seen it. Miguel and Travis Scott stunt effortlessly through a party with about 75 of the most gorgeous girls on earth. That's the ratio they're working with: Two to 75; not bad by anyone's standards. Miguel goes from swimming in the ocean, to pouring shots of tequila, to partying in a ritzy nightclub, to having girls model for him in his bedroom. It's an ostentatious display of wealth and coolness that I can only dream of. Maybe we'll be this cool some day. 

Young Thug ft. Meek Mill - "Homie": This video is an unmistakable can't miss mini-horror film disguised as a music video. Carnage, the man responsible for countless trap-rave crossover hits, including "WDYW" and "I Like Tuh" combines forces with the incomparable Young Thug and a ferocious Meek Mill on "Homie." Thug spits with a angry grunt in his usually chipper voice and Mill raps in his finest form, with a snarl and a hot-headed level of aggression. The video plays out like a trippy one-shot tracking short film that inverts upside down and takes twists and turns that will keep you captivated. This one is absolutely worth checking out, and the song is hard as hell too.