“Injury Reserve” Review: Self-titled album makes underground waves

Intro

Injury Reserve has been tearing up the underground scene with mixtapes since 2013 with a repertoire of hits and 2 lead up-singles before the release of their debut album. The timing for its release almost went under the radar due to being the same day as Tyler, the Creator’s IGOR, but the group almost relishes in its underdog status among the music industry

The trio, Steppa J. Groggs, Ritchie with a T, and producer Parker Cory come together on this debut LP in a show of unison to release some of the strongest songs the group has put out to date. With gritty lyrics and grimy, mechanical production Injury Reserve establishes itself as one of the most experimental and trendsetting projects of 2019 for better or worse. Without further adieu, let’s get right into it.

Listening through

We open up with “Koruna & Lime” with a grinding synth line which establishes a tone for the experimental nature of the rest of the album. As their first full commercial debut the group sets itself apart with the off-kilter beats to keep the listener following along. 

This continues to “Jawbreaker”one of the singles released before the album. Layered vocal hooks of Pro Teens sets an offset beat and cruel melody for which the song sits on. It accentuates Ritchie’s talent of witty observational comedy and rap. The track starts with him making fun of Instagram accounts used to sell clothing, then it effortlessly turns into a fast-paced rap track. It that almost overtakes the beat in the best way possible. The track also features up and coming female rapper Rico Nasty showcasing her ability as an MC. It adds a much needed flare of personality and contrast to the common culture of hip hop.

The other single,“Jailbreak The Tesla”, also does a great job showcasing the group’s weirdness. When first hearing the song name I was amused and also immediately noticed the Aminé feature. He is a frequent collaborator with the group, previously featuring them on his single “Campfire”. The track uses a deconstructed melody sample of “Tokyo Drift” by Teriyaki Boyz, a hit single from the Fast and Furious movies. The entire track gives an eerie, high-tec futuristic racing vibe through a series of random bleeps, bloops and vocal shifting. This is a true testament to Parker Cory’s skill of being able to create a solid melody out of this mash-up of sounds. The track also hosts to Aminé’s funniest line yet to me: “Elon on them shrooms/ And Grimes’ voice gon’ be the GPS (Turn left)”

This track is immediately followed up with “Gravy n’ Biscuits”It is a step-back from the intense production we’ve been hearing to a more laid back jazz rap beat. Groggs also shines on this track with more rhyming couplets then you’d know what do with and possibly one of the catchiest hooks they’ve done to date. 

It would be remiss to not mention “Rap Song Tutorial”. It is a comedy skit with Ritchie simplifying the rap music-making process to a 5 step tutorial narrated by Siri. I’d be a liar if I did not say the infectious hook “FIGHT ME” has been stuck in my head while writing this.

From here on, “Wax On” featuring Freddie Gibbs is superb and shows off Freddie’s versatility on just about any beat. Speeding and slowing his flow as the song goes, he establishes himself in the forefront of lyrical rappers in the 2010’s. Another highlight was Ritchie coming to terms with his song meanings and interactions with a fan on “Best Spot in the House”. It was a cool touching moment you don’t often see from the more standoffish character that Ritchie can be. The other songs around this 2/3rds point didn’t stand out too much to me apart from the finale. The DRAM feature on the RnB-esque “New Hawaii” was novel at best. I found the song to almost drag on for too long. 

Speaking of that, the finale track “Three Man Weave” is probably my favorite song on the record. It’s the smoothest joint on the album. It time-traveled me to “S on Ya Chest” or some of the other laid-back tracks a la the albums Floss and Live from the Dentist Office. Rightfully so the track features the gang reminiscing on where they’ve been and how far they are now. A solid ending.

Standout tracks

Sick tracks: “Koruna & Lime”, “Jawbreaker” (feat. Rico Nasty & PRO TEENS), “GTFU” (feat. JPEGMAFIA & Cakes Da Killa), “Jailbreak the Tesla” (feat. Amine), “Rap Song Tutorial”, “Wax On” (feat. Freddie Gibbs), “Three Man Weave”.

Meh tracks: “What a Year It’s Been”, “New Hawaii”

Overall impression

Overall, this album has outstanding production and lyrics. They set it apart from the rest and gives a welcoming breath of freshness to the genre. You can tell the group really wanted to set themselves apart and they did just that. Although the album drags for a little bit, they still pick it up at the end. This self-titled debut is exactly what they wanted to put out in just how uncompromising and experimental the project is.

Rating: 4.3/5

“IGOR” review: Tyler, The Creator creates one for the ages

I recently wrote a piece about why Tyler The Creator completely finessed his way into the position he has in the rap game. If you are confused as to what I mean by that, you should check out that post before reading this one. It details his rocky rise to stardom and the progression that he has shown since jumping onto the scene 10 years ago.

Tyler first announced his new album IGOR in early May 2019 after a report leaked that showed he had an album on the way before June 1st. The rollout for the album consisted of him dropping snippets of some of the tracks on YouTube and Instagram as a way to hype the fans up. He also dropped a few merch packs containing some interesting items for those that are interested.  

Needless to say, the album has finally materialized and I cannot wait to jump right in and listen. Here is my review of Tyler The Creator’s latest album IGOR.  

First impressions

  • The Good: On my first listen through this album, I was honestly stunned at how sonically pleasing it is. Each track has different musical elements that are very pleasing to the ear. Tyler’s flow is as crisp as ever and he even breaks new ground on this album. I’m really enjoying the project thus far.
  • The Bad: The only knock I can see is that a few of the tracks sound a bit similar. There are some tracks that mainly consist of very heavy base with other little elements in the background. These tracks are good in their own way, but may be slightly boring to those who don’t like that sound.  

Lyrics/Flow

  • The Good: As I mentioned, the flows on each track are very good and fit the vibes very well. The subject matter is interesting in itself and discusses themes such as love, relationships, and life in general. There is also a decent amount of singing sprinkled into the project. It really compliments the rapping and makes the tracks stand out even more.
  • The Bad: The only negative I can see in this category is that there aren’t too many new themes discussed. We’ve heard Tyler talk about love and his relationships before, but it doesn’t detract from the overall quality of the project. It is just a small knock on an otherwise exceptional album.   
  • Score: 8/10

Beats

  • The Good: To put it simply, the beats are the best part of this project. Each one has its own distinct feel while also sticking to a constant theme. They just work and sound great. The entire album was produced by Tyler, as with most of his previous work, but something feels different. T got to a new level on 2017’s Flower Boy, but I think he leveled his production game up even further on IGOR. We also see him explore some new sounds yet again, which is always a highlight of his projects.  
  • The Bad: As mentioned in the intro, a few of the tracks sound similar in terms of the beat and that may annoy some listeners. Even if they do sound a bit similar, that does not ignore the fact that they sound great and carefully crafted.  
  • Score: 9/10

Replayability

  • The Good: Over the course of his career, Tyler The Creator has been working very hard to make his projects more concise and cut out extra tracks that may not be necessary. He does just that on this album due to it clocking in at 12 tracks. The project has no filler and each track brings its own vibes due to the different sounds. This will be an album that ages well due to the diversity it contains.  
  • The Bad: If you aren’t a big Tyler fan, you may see this as just another one of his random sounding albums. And admittedly, it is random sounding at times. But that isn’t a bad thing if each track is quality and has a place on the album. I recommend that every hip hop fan give this album at least one listen.  
  • Score: 8.5/10

Standouts

Final thoughts

As I wrote in my previous post about Tyler The Creator, it’s crazy to me that he released Bastard nearly 10 years ago. He has shown so much growth in those 10 years and it is very admirable. On IGOR, he continued with that growth in the best way possible.

What I already love so much about this new album is how it stands out all on its own among his discography. None of these songs sound like anything else that Tyler has ever made and will probably ever make again. He said that this album is supposed to stand out from the rest and he definitely delivered on that. Here is what he said on Instagram the day before the album came out:  

Besides maybe Flower Boy, IGOR is easily the best album that Tyler The Creator has ever made. It simply shows a beautiful artistic progression while also allowing him to be true to who he has been all along. To put it simply, an album is great when it actually serves its purpose and delivers on all of your expectations and more.

IGOR has the ability to evoke many emotions and helps you to think deeply about love, relationships, and what it all means to love. That’s what makes it a fantastic album. It is the best album from a primarily hip hop artist thus far in 2019. It stands out among Tyler’s discography and among the work that his peers are creating due to the creativity and experimental sounds it contains. I would highly recommend giving this project a shot because it isn’t your average everyday album, it truly is something special.

Final Score: 8.8/10    

K-UTE Radio/University of Utah does not own any images in this piece.

“Ventura” review: Anderson .Paak is back in tip-top shape on fourth album

In case you didn’t know it by now, Anderson .Paak is a star in the music game. He’s already released a modern classic (as some would call it) in his second album Malibu. But where did he come from in the first place?

 The weird thing about him is how he seemingly came out of nowhere, but was here all along. .Paak has been around since 2009, working with the likes of Dr. Dre, ScHoolboy Q, Flying Lotus, The Game, and Kendrick Lamar since then. Many have grown to love his unique voice and his ear for instrumentation. But fans and music critics alike have begun to wonder if .Paak can replicate the quality of his album Malibu due to the mixed reviews of its follow-up Oxnard in 2018.

   On Ventura it seems like .Paak is ready to prove himself yet again. Let’s dive right in and see if he can do that on his fourth studio album.

First impressions

  • The Good: On my first listen through the album, I was amazed at the sonic direction that .Paak went with this time around. It is so different from his last album Oxnard and that isn’t a bad thing at all. The project gives off more of a late 70s-early 80s vibe with disco/funk influences and it’s a really nice change of pace from his previous work.
  • The Bad: The only bad thing I can see thus far with this album is that it is simply too short. It doesn’t drag at all due to the fact it’s only 11 songs long, and I would have much rather preferred a few more songs just to see how far Anderson could take this sound.  

Lyrics/Flow

  • The Good: On this project we hear .Paak utilizing his beautiful singing voice in a variety of different ways. We also get the opportunity to hear him rap a little bit, but the rapping doesn’t overpower the singing like on some of the songs on Oxnard. It is a really good mix and there is something for everyone in this collection of songs.   
  • The Bad: While the singing/rapping is very good on the project, the subject matter is a bit lacking. Most of the tracks have similar concepts that we’ve already heard .Paak discuss in detail in the past. That isn’t terrible, but I would have loved to hear some new ideas fleshed out in these tracks.  
  • Score: 7.7/10

Beats

  • The Good: As I mentioned before, it seems that Anderson .Paak went with a more 70s-80s classic R&B/funk feel. Once you listen through the whole project, you’ll definitely feel that. The beats on this project just resonate a different energy that makes the listener actually feel something. They convey the emotion that .Paak is trying to get across in each track and I applaud him for that.  
  • The Bad: Even though most of the project is new sonic territory for .Paak, not every track seems to have got that message. This knock is only for a few tracks and I don’t think it detracts from the album as a whole. It is a great project and I’d still recommend it if you enjoy .Paak’s style of music.  
  • Score: 8.5/10

Replayability

  • The Good: If you’re looking for a short but sweet album that sounds fresh every time through, you’ve got it right here from Anderson .Paak. This album is only 11 songs and it clocks in at 39 minutes. It doesn’t drag in the slightest and that is a huge boost for the replayability.  
  • The Bad: The only bad thing I can say in terms of the album’s replayability is that if you aren’t a fan of Anderson’s style of music, you may get bored after your first few listens. That is understandable but doesn’t detract from the project as a whole.  
  • Score: 8.2/10

Standouts

Final thoughts

After the less-than-stellar album that 2018’s Oxnard was, I’m happy to see Anderson .Paak get back on the right path with his music. I would 100 percent recommend this album for anyone that wants to hear some pure good vibes this spring. This project is perfect for the warm weather we’ve got headed our way and it will for sure stay in constant rotation.  

Man, this project is honestly so great and I can’t get enough of it. I’ve had pretty much the whole album on repeat since it came out. There is enough variety on here to keep me coming back and it doesn’t get stale as fast as other albums. I love the heavy funk influences that Cheeky Andy used simply because they sound so crisp and polished. I’d love to hear more of that from him in the future.

Honestly this project isn’t groundbreaking in too many ways, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t great in its own right. .Paak tried something new on Oxnard and I respect him for that, but I respect him even more for knowing exactly what he’s good at and giving that to us on Ventura. This is one of the best albums of 2019 thus far and will remain that regardless of what other big artists drop for the rest of the year.  

Final Score: 8.4/10    

K-UTE Radio/University of Utah does not own any images in this piece.

Album review: Sincerely, Tokyo by Madeintyo

I first discovered Madeintyo a few years ago. You may be familiar with his track “Uber Everywhere”, which was released in 2016. The track got an official remix with Travis Scott. Even though that is currently his most popular song, Madeintyo brings much more to the table than just his slick-but-lazy sounding flow.

He’s released several projects so far during his short career, including Thank You, Mr. Tokyo and True’s World. These projects show off his tremendous flow, but I’m looking for more than that on this project. Seeing that it’s his debut album and he’s been working on it for more than two years, expectations are understandably high.

Enough talk, it’s time to get into Madeintyo’s debut album Sincerely, Tokyo.

First impressions

During my first couple listens through this project, the songs are all quality. There are 14 tracks, but they don’t drag on as the majority are between 2-3 minutes. The beats are fresh and experimental, which is always a plus.

Something that immediately sticks out about this project is the lack of different flows. This is something I really hoped Tokyo would experiment with on this project. This isn’t the worst thing in the world, but it makes the album a bit repetitive after a few listens.

Lyrics/Flow

Madeintyo is known more for his slick flow than his lyrics. He once again proves that on most of these tracks. He brings dope vibes to each project and all of the songs are ones that would be perfect for party playlists.  

While I’ll admit that his flow is dope on this album, it just gets a bit grating with the amount of times we hear the same thing. Tokyo has so much potential to make different sounding tracks due to the beats that he chooses, but he brings the same flow in most of these songs. That’s a no from me dawg.

  • Score: 6/10

Beats

If there is anything that is a clear-cute standout to me, it’s the beats contained on this album. Each song has a very distinct beat. It keeps the album fresh in that aspect, which I really enjoy for replayability reasons. Some of the producers on this album include Dwn2Earth, Ronny J, K Swisha, Hit-Boy, Wheezy, TM88, and many more. 

The only negative that I can say about this album’s beats is that they are too short on a lot of tracks. For example, the beat on “Moshi Moshi” is absolutely amazing but it only lasts about 1:15. The same problem is present throughout the project. While I respect shorter songs, I wish some of them were a bit longer.

  • Score: 8.3/10

Replayability

Not all albums are easily replayable, but this one definitely is. Sincerely, Tokyo clocks in at only 39 minutes. It is a quick listen that you can knock out and hopefully enjoy. I for one will be listening to this one for quite a while because most of the songs are enjoyable.

Even though the album is short and the beats are outstanding, Tokyo’s flows do get a bit repetitive. Not all of the tracks sound exactly the same, but a lot of the tracks near the beginning of the project sound kind of similar. But don’t let that turn you off the album as a whole, because you can shuffle through it and find something you like instead of listening in order.   

  • Score: 7.5/10

Standouts

Final thoughts

I expected a lot from Madeintyo on Sincerely, Tokyo. The album isn’t perfect, but he mostly met my expectations. Yes, he has proved that he isn’t only the guy who made “Uber Everywhere”, but did he prove anything else on this release?

Let’s be clear, the best things about this album are the beats. They are absolutely amazing and carry the project for me. Tokyo flows over them all so effortlessly, but that’s about it. His lyrical content is nothing to be amazed at.

Honestly, Sincerely, Tokyo is an album to listen to if you enjoy an artist that brings solely vibes to their music. I urge Tokyo to explore new flows and subject matter on his next project, simply because it’ll get people interested again. Madeintyo has released a fine project here, but not one that will go down as a classic by any means. The beats will remain fresh and the vibes dope, but otherwise most hip hop fans won’t remember this project.

Final Score: 7.3/10

Artwork owned by Madeintyo/The Private Club  

Album Review: Polygondwanaland by King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard

One problem that I have with the music industry is how commercialized it has become. Concert prices are going up and band tees are 50 bucks a pop. Meanwhile, record companies are making billions and artists are losing creative control.

Some bands, like King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, are combatting this epidemic. The Australian psychedelic rock band released their 12th studio album and 4th this year, Polygondwanaland, on November 17, 2017. The marvel of this record is it is 100 percent free.  On the band’s website, they say this album is “free to download and if you wish, free to make copies.” They have put up a link to the mp3 files and the CD and vinyl masters. King Gizzard says, “we do not own this record. You do. Go forth, share, enjoy.”

Polygondwanaland is a made-up word referencing multiple different things. Gondwana was 1 of 2 supercontinents that formed Pangea. It consisted of Antarctica, South America, Africa, Australia, the Arabian Peninsula and the Indian subcontinent. Polygon might reference their album Nonagon Infinity which pictures a polygon with 9 sides. Many of their albums exist inside the same interconnected universe and reference each other. Polygondwanaland uses polyrhythms, uncommon time signatures, and takes you on a journey to a mysterious land.

“Crumbling Castle” is the 10-minute opener. Several of their other albums, including I’m in Your Mind Fuzz (2014) and Murder of the Universe (2017), depict castles in the artwork. Descending guitar and vocals alternate between playing in unison and stagnated with complex polyrhythms. Guitar and flute solos take you up and away as they begin to enter the new world of Polygondwanaland. The lyrics are dark and gloomy. Stu Mackenzie sings, “we wait for our death… our extinction.” This is a heavy epic opening that sets the tone for the rest of the album.

“Polygondwanaland” begins with groovy drums and bass. They talk about climate change and how it will create a new world. They sing, “Snow melts… it will get hot.” Perhaps polygondwanaland is the new world that will be formed after the climate settles down. Mackenzie hopefully sings, “we’re gonna get there.”

Each song transitions seamlessly between one another. They tell a single story and build off each other. Spoken words by Leah Senior narrate the story and propel the album forward. Synth interludes give the impression of time traveling. Relentless drums drive us into “Deserted Dunes Welcome Weary Feet” where we learn that polygondwanaland is full of dinosaurs.

A theme of this album is gods and devils and the battle between good and evil. “Loyalty” is about a god whose people revolt against him. He chooses to make an example and show his wrath until he gets his loyalty. “Horology” takes you “to the ninth circle of hell”. They sing about a demon creature the walks across the land with death.

The last 3 songs touch on the theme of tetrachromacy, which is having 4 distinct cone cells in the eye. This condition is seen in many birds, fish, and other animals. Humans only have 3, which is why we see 3 primary colors. Millennia ago, all mammals were tetrachromats but it has been genetically phased out over time.

“Tetrachromacy” introduces this idea of a fourth color that humans have ever seen. They become curious about this color and “lust to see the invisible”. “Searching…” is the mysterious transition. Mackenzie sings, “Doctor please… I want to see the world differently.” The surgery is successful. They can now see “The Fourth Color” and it has granted them god-like powers. They can “see through walls… your terror… [and] the future.”

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard has delivered another stellar album with Polygondwanaland. The use of strange rhythms and time signatures creates a unique sound and music that is anything but boring. The albums complexity and connectedness transports you into a new world as all good psychedelic albums should. Free music is a futuristic idea and one that I can get behind. King Gizzard has promised another album this year, so all we can do is eagerly await as they explore new musical ideas.

68′ Rock n’ Roll with a Kick in the Pants

Rawr! Snarl! Crash! These are the words that come to mind when listening to the band 68’. The group is comprised of Josh Scogin on vocals and guitar, and Michael McClellan on drums.  Their sound is self-described as rock n’ roll with a kick in the pants, but it’s not exactly easy to put this bluesy rock duo in a box. They definitely peddle a heavy rock sound, and I really wouldn’t expect anything less given Scogin’s past screamo endeavors with Norma Jean, and as The Chariot’s metalcore front man.

Two Parts Viper is the group’s sophomore album, released earlier this year, and it’s intense to say the least. The entire album embodies the essence of rock n’ roll and it’s just as intense as their first album. Upon the departure of Matt Goldman on guitar, Scogin has added McClellan on drums, which has better enabled the two-man group to take their sound to the next level. Each song incorporates complex instrumental interludes alternating catchy riffs with vocals and lyrics that give you that fast-paced rock n’ roll vibe.

Tracks worth noting include “Life is Old, New Borrowed, and Blue” which metaphorically punches you in the face with the abrasive riffs battling it out against badgering one liners. The turbulent nature of the song conjures up a restlessness that makes it almost too much fun to sing along to. “Death is A Lottery” is another song on Two Parts Viper that successfully hammers out an intense melody and artistic instrumental construction which compliments the lyrical composition to produce an intense display of chaotic harmony. Memorable lines such as “Maybe I’m right, maybe I’m wrong, death is quick, but it can last so long” are passionately poured out in an abrasive ballad.

The track “Apologies” is another favorite on the album, and it’s one that showcases the artistry of both members. This song creatively paints a rock n’ roll picture with steady drum lines and Scogin’s bluesy angle of delivering crashing lyrics only to be broken up by an interlude of spoken word which embodies the poetry in such a way that’s sure to appeal to most rock n’ roll rebel personas.

Every song on the album hits like a hurricane, and, the band is even better live. I had been sleeping on the new album for the last six months until finally discovering the awesomeness that is Two Parts Viper. However, once I became keen to its rock n’ roll mastery, I’ve been listening on repeat enough to redeem myself from my negligent misstep. And recently I was rewarded for my intense fandom as I realized that the band would be opening up for The Bronx playing here in Salt Lake City, which I had already scored tickets to.  

The performance was incredible and it was not merely two musicians giving you their best songs to promote their latest album, it walked the line of performance art. Scogin and McClellen performed in a symbiotic trance that had the energy of a killer punk show and the depth of a complex piece of art. They masterfully abused their instruments, while performing in sync to produce the most chaotic display of musical art I’ve ever seen. The performance was so intense and awe-inspiring, I hardly enjoyed the main act that played after them, and as I left the show, I knew that I had just witnessed something special, something rare, an unbelievable display of talent. And with that, I can honestly say, Two Parts Viper rocks, but if you get the chance, don’t miss them live.

The Amulet: New Album from Circa Survive

The sixth studio album from Circa Survive is upon us, and since its recent release, my love for them has been revived! They’ve always strived to be viewed as more than an era-defined band that blows out the same catchy guitar riffs and for years. They want to embody more artistry in their music- To exist in their space as an evolving expression of art.

But, that’s not to say that they don’t have songs that have been replayed repeatedly, in fact, they have plenty of songs that live in their fans hearts. Songs in which the band is somewhat obligated to play on every tour in respect for their loyal following who hold these certain songs close to their heart as cherished symbols that affected their lives and personal growth at some point in their coming of age. However, these same fans have also completely embraced their art form as growing and changing expression.

Circa Survive fans are loyal and in-tune, which is good. Because they’re certainly a talented band that deserves such devotion to their art. But, there is something I love about Circa Survive, and to me, it’s not readily available in everything they’ve put out.

With that said, the new album has once again been nuanced with their signature ethereal sound, but this time it also incorporates different elements reminiscent of their first album Juterna, which has surprisingly piqued my interest.

The new album Amulet is a dream filled with prolific lines and a beautiful juxtaposition of hard and soft. The drums and guitars produce a more complex sound than prior work and Greene’s vocals ebb and flow from delicate to growling screams, these refreshing elements combine to tell an emotional story that’s easy to get lost in a surreal daydream up until the very last track.

Beyond my observations regarding the refreshing newness of the album, Anthony Green himself has spoken on how he feels about the band making new music. – “Some of these songs are so f–king fun to play live, and I really look forward to getting to play these songs. That’s what excites me. That’s not to say I don’t feel similarly about the older material, or that I am not grateful for how that material has helped us, but it’s just like – when we play that stuff it’s the same as it has always been. But this material is new, and the connection I feel to it is exciting and fresh”

Green’s own views on his music are infectious and perfectly relates to how I feel about the new album. I like the old stuff, but it’s exciting to experience them once again put effort into tweaking their sound for a different vibe. Their excitement is shining through on every track and reaching me with a renewed sense of meaning and it’s a sound I can’t get enough of.

Darkness at the Liquor Store

On September 8th, 2017, The National released their 7th studio album Sleep Well Beast. It introduces a new sonic element different from previous albums. The album artwork is black, grey and blue, and the CD and vinyl are colored blue. These dark, cold colors reflect the mood of the album.

The National uses a variety of electronic drums and synthesizers. Even with more electronics, the passionate piano melodies, gritty guitar solos, and Matt Berninger’s baritone voice provide an unmistakable National sound.

In a recent interview with NME.com, band members Matt Berninger, Aaron Dessner, Bryce Dessner, and Scott Devendorf discuss the album, drummer Bryan Devendorf couldn’t make it. Bryce Dessner says Sleep Well Beast is experimental and takes their sound in a positive new direction. Berninger explains that the songs on the albums are connected. He says, “the lyrics to a record are just the lyrics to a record. There’s not lyrics to this song or lyrics to that song…they are all in the same stew.”

Despite the interconnectedness of the lyrics, there is a tremendous amount of contrast from song to song. Songs 1,3,5, and 7 are relatively gloomy or sorrowful whereas songs 2,4,6, and 8 are more upbeat and bold. They do a tremendous job providing this contrast all the while keeping to similar themes of fear, anxiety, sorrow, and trying to find love. The last 4 songs add a somber note, rounding out the 12 track, hour long record.

Sleep Well Beast was produced primarily by Aaron Dessner, with help from Bryce Dessner and Matt Berninger. 4 years after releasing Trouble Will Find Me, they had plenty of time to perfect the music. The high production quality allows the complexity and intricacies of the music to flow effortlessly.

They start the album talking about going home to be alone. The opening song, “Nobody Else Will Be There”, is Berninger pleading with a loved one asking, “can’t we just go home?”. In “Day I Die” he says, “I’d rather walk all the way home right now than to spend another second in the place… just come outside and leave with me.”

Berninger’s depression and anxiety are seen through the lyrics. He sings about over-thinking things and how that ruins his head. He says, “I’m no holiday”, “I can’t stand me”, and “nothing I do makes me feel different.”

The lyrics tell the story of a someone fighting for love. In “Born to Beg”, Berninger sings that he’d do anything for his love. He feels sorry for something he has done and is willing to take the blame. This theme continues in “Dark Side of the Gym” as he sings, “I’m gonna keep you in love with me.”

It’s not a National album without the mention of alcohol. Throughout the album, Berninger sings, “meet me in the stairwell… for a glass of gin”, “I get a little punchy with the vodka”, “I mix weed with wine”, “I’ve been hoping to drink”, and “I have helpless friendships and bad taste in liquids”. The lead singer is drunk almost every time they perform and frequently drinks on stage.

The album ends with the lyrics “I’ll still destroy you someday, sleep well beast.” Berninger is caught up in his sorrow but has come to grips with his situation. He has been through it all emotionally and can endure anything life throws at him.

The National started in 1999, releasing their first album in 2001. 16 years later they still have so much to offer the indie-rock scene. Sleep Well Beast is personal and honest. They incorporate new musical ideas and keep aspects of their classic sound. They show that rock isn’t easy nor safe. You’ve got to take chances and be bold. Most importantly, you have to be true to yourself. Sleep Well Beast shows that The National still has a couple punches left before they go down.