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The National’s “The System Only Sleeps in Total Darkness”

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Eternal dad rocker’s The National have announced a new record due out this September. Sleep Well Beast is their long awaited follow-up to 2013’s Trouble Will Find Me. The band may have been relatively dormant since that album, save for the odd single like “Sunshine On My Back”, but it’s members have been busy.

Lead singer Matt Berninger has been working with everyone from Saint Vincent to Walter Martin. He also debuted his indie side project EL VY with Brent Knopf in 2015. Guitarist Aaron Dessner produced Lisa Hannigan’s album At Swim and Frightened Rabbit’s Painting Of A Panic Attack. Working with Bon Iver/Justin Vernon, Aaron also organized the Wisconsin’s Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival. The two paired with Dessner’s twin brother Bryce and Michelberger Hotel to put on the Funkhaus, a not-for-profit gathering in Berlin. Bryce released several orchestral works as well as created the ballet “The Most Incredible Thing” with Justin Peck and Marcel Dzama. Moreover, the Dessners put together 4AD’s Grateful Dead charity album, Day of the Dead, which came out last year. The band’s other set of brothers
Bryan and Scott Devendorf released Green Roses and LNZNDRF in 2016 with their side project LNZNDRF. The resulting tight schedules of The National members and seemingly endless talents perhaps explains their slow recording process.

Now that they’ve finally taken to the woods (literally, the band is known for retreating into the Northeastern conifers to distill their music at places like Clubhouse Studio in Rhinebeck, NY) and cut a new album, the question of how it’ll measure up to previous releases arises. Trouble Will Find Me was the latest in a string of commercial successes for The National. With it, their younger days as indie could-bes were officially irreversibly behind them, more so than they had been with High Violet. Their early efforts such as Alligator and Boxer are now regarded as gems and an audience far beyond Pitchfork awaits their next move.

From the first listens on their new work, it sounds like The National hasn’t let any of that hype distract them. Their first single off the new record, “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness”, is a departure of sorts from their true brooding roots. Opening with ethereal vocals and slowly, pounding piano chords, the song comes off less anxious than their earlier work. Frantic guitar instills a real energy while Berninger’s vocals, velvety as ever enter to center the track. The bass and drums pair perfectly, in and out dips some light horns and everything sorts of melts together into a more-electric-than-you’re-expecting (there’s a great guitar solo), but impressive nonetheless track. The effort excels in the chorus when the whole network of sounds come in full force while Berninger sings, “I cannot explain it / Any other, any other way”.

The track continues the meditative trend that The National kept up with for Trouble Will Find Me as they had always done. Of course, singles aren’t always perfect representations of the rest of the album to come, but regardless of whether or not “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” is indicative in that way, it is still a success. It leaves listeners to read the tracklisting and wonder what the goofy sounding “Dark Side of the Gym” or the sweet “Carin at the Liquor Store” will be like.

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