The National never seem in a hurry to reach their destination, but there's a sense of quiet urgency on Sleep Well Beast, their seventh album. Much of that momentum arrives in arrangements that generally tend to eschew the grayscale of its 2013 predecessor, Trouble Will Find Me, a record that felt sculpted so that each element was elegantly interlocked. Comparatively, Sleep Well Beast draws attention to itself through the occasional squall of noise ("The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness") and rushed tempo ("Turtleneck"), but also through an expanded sonic palette. Electronics are used for texture and shade, vocal harmonies glide through the mix, pianos anchor a couple of tunes -- all subtle gradients within the National's recognizable formula, but they're enough to give Sleep Well Beast a distinct character. Such a shift may not be startling, particularly since it takes a while for album opener "Nobody Else Will Be There" to fade into view, but by the time the murmuring title track evaporates, it's evident that Sleep Well Beast offers a journey with satisfying detours. This is a welcome departure (and perhaps necessary complement) to Trouble Will Find Me, which celebrated its finely manicured stillness. While Sleep Well Beast offers more than its fair share of hushed moments -- the National design their music to be lean-in listening, requiring an investment from their audience not only so that the lyrics can be deciphered, but so the subdued shifts in emphasis seem dynamic -- this familiar signature seems enhanced by the fact that these soft, slow songs are surrounded by cuts where the darkness opens up slightly but significantly. It's enough to make Sleep Well Beast feel like a dramatic departure in the close quarters of the National's discography.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine