Album Audit: The National, ODESZA And More

Written By Sam Murphy on 09/11/2017

Album Audit is a weekly Interns feature, recapping and reviewing the album releases of the week with a cheeky score out of five.

The National – Sleep Well Beast

Album Of The Week

If you’ve followed The National even for just one album, you’ll know that getting through an album unscathed is not an easy task. Their records are a trigger for an existential crisis and often require a magnified search for any sense of hope. It’ll please you to know then that Sleep Well Beast may be their most despairing yet. That said, it’s an album about coping. About finding those moment of peace amongst the chaos.

Mournful keys open the record on Nobody Else Will Be There but then but then Matt Berninger focuses in on the setting lamenting, “It’s getting cold again but New York’s gorgeous.” In that moment he freezes time and copes, even if just for a moment. The future is a scary place on Sleep Well Beast as they contemplate death (The Day I Die), growing political uncertainty (The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness) and relationships growing apart (Empire Line). And yet, despite all this uncertainly, as a relationship and the world crumbles around them Berninger sings, “It’s all alright,” on Walk It Back.

Sleep Well Beast is both political and personal with the band often blurring the lines between the two. Closer Sleep Well Beast depicts a relationship that’s gone to sleep in a sense and yet Berninger has said that it also describes this notion of the world hibernating when things go wrong. The beast is the youth sleeping and he’s hopeful that they’ll wake up eventually. “I feel positive about the future,” he even told Pitchfork. There’s this optimism on Sleep Well Beast that the personal and political rejuvinate. On Born To Beg, Berninger once again uses New York as a setting singing, “It dies every ten years/And then it begins again.” He then sings that he’d stay in a broken relationship suggesting he’s open to rejuvenation. These sporadic moments of light stop Sleep Well Beast from leaving you deflated.

It also helps that it’s full of some of The National’s most sweeping epic soundscapes. Hell, they even pull out a howling guitar solo on The System Only Dreams In Darkness. And light peers through the clutter on the closing title track which is perhaps the closest we’ll ever get to an optimistic climax at the tail-end of a National record. 4

Mount Kimbie – Love What Survives

Mount Kimbie have always felt a little like the punks of the electronic world, taking the genre to a place of innovation with left-centred, in-your-face productions. On Love What Survives they take that punk title more seriously though, making an album that almost completely ditches the electronic genre in favour of something more band-focussed. Rock may have seemed worlds away from their last record Cold Spring Fault Less Youth but the transition is seamless.

Losing none of their innovative flair, they’ve made an album that’s rougher, wilder and simultaneously more fragile. King Krule rattles with fury through the frantic Blue Train Lines, You Look Certain (I’m Not So Sure) is the most lo-fi thing they’ve ever done and opener Four Years And One Day finds an unlikely between alarming electronica and rock, ushering in a new era.

It may seem at times like they’re out for blood on Love What Survives but there are some seriously beautiful moments on here that compliment the fury. Poison is a beautiful, gliding moment, T.A.M.E.D. is a dizzying daydream and How We Got By is a bare-boned masterpiece that rises and falls with James Blake’s crystalline voice. Love What Survives will be a challenging record for long-time fans but if you appreciate that the bones of the duo are still there, they’ve just changed the toolkit then you’ll find there’s more detail to discover here than ever before. One of the most exciting electronic records of the year is actually a rock album. 4

Anna Of The North – Lovers

Norwegian newbie Anna Of The North has quietly built hype with great pop songs over the past few years and her debut LP Lovers seems to come just as the stars are aligning. She’s fresh from a collaboration with Tyler, The Creator and Frank Ocean and seems to have more ears on her than ever before. Lovers is a floating, minimalist pop record that as the title would suggest, focusses on love stories. She’s cleverly constructed sfumato pop tunes that are appealing but sometimes lack the impact the beg for repeat returns.

Sometimes the lyrical weight doesn’t sync with the airy instrumental like on Always when she politely sings, “I’m tired of being in love”, while at other she misses the opportunity to say something profound over minimalist beats like on Baby. The album is at its best when it’s at its most immediate. Money brings a brilliant melody to the chorus while Fire suggests she’s got a radio hit up her sleeve.

While Lovers is often a case of style over substance there are glimmers of both vulnerability and strength that suggest she’s a great popstar-in-waiting. The walls need to come down first though. 3

ODESZA – A Moment Apart

While ODESZA may have shot to popularity for sharp dance tunes like Say My Name and All We Need, on the follow-up to 2014’s In Return they takes cues from their transcendent live show to deliver something far more atmospheric. As such, A Moment Apart is designed to be listened to from start to finish and at many times over its near-1 hour duration, plays out like a film score.

Tracks like the pop-centred Higher Ground and the soulful, melodic Across The Room suggest they still have a focus on individual tunes but they’re resting among grandiose instrumental moments. While the shimmering Boy and dense Meridian are stirring pieces of music it sometimes feels as if there’s little light and shade in here. We reach climaxes at so many points on this record that by the time they reach the truly stirring finale Corners Of The Earth, it doesn’t feel as big as it should.

The gentler moments are where ODESZA really shine here. Regina Spektor’s guest spot on the fragile Just A Memory is stunning and the gut-wrenching Falls are beautiful points in the album but they’re wedged in between grand moments that cast a shadow. This album is going to sound monumental in the live arena but as an audio piece it lacks a bit of restraint. More fragility peppered in between would’ve amplified the grand moments and made it something truly special. 3.5