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The National released its seventh album last week. | Facebook

If I’ve learned one thing from the National, it’s that all good things take time.

For going on five years, around the time of 2013’s des­perate and haunting “Trouble Will Find Me,” Matt Berninger’s mahogany voice has been part of my mental fur­niture: He’s been there for innu­merable road trips, house parties, and long walks with the music low in my head­phones as sense slowly emerges from sound and the lyrics bleed out of the woodwork.

I awaited the arrival of the National’s seventh album like the visit of a dear friend.

I’d antic­i­pated the date since this spring: Sept. 8, “Sleep Well Beast” and I would engage in another installment of trademark nos­talgia, middle-aged Mid­western ennui, and melodies that roll through the back of my head until they’re part of the hard­wiring. What I got last Friday was that and more: in sound and in sense, the voice of the National has matured.

“Sleep Well Beast” has been called modern, hopeful, and upbeat, a step forward built on elec­tronic beats and a sense that there is some­thing more to these stories than the National’s abiding alle­giance to heart­break and missed oppor­tu­nities, rum­bling over one mournful, rolling bass line after another. On this album, lead singer Matt Berninger’s voice is closer to the micro­phone; he is honest and direct and ready to think about moving on.

This will take some time to unpack; maybe as long as it will take to under­stand.

The National’s music col­lects dust and stories; it’s a house of memory. It takes two hands to count the times I’ve sung to the album Trouble Will Find Me and grinned like a fool and felt foolish and real and full of regret: “I should live in salt for leaving you behind.”

It’s the kind of music that comes on at a house party, and you catch eyes with the few people who under­stand. You clasp your hands over your chest and say melo­dra­mat­i­cally, “Oh, my poor heart.” Regardless of the angst and the hope­lessness, it’s the music that makes you feel things, because too many times, it’s created the atmos­phere that made it pos­sible to feel things.

The National is all about the past tense and the way the present is haunted by it. Here it is in “Santa Clara,” from the Vir­ginia EP: “They’re gonna be cool happy genius heroes; I’m going to miss them so much.”

Why is there this strange feeling that the new album has only shifted to an odd nos­talgia for the future: “The day I die, where will we be?” Why, in the scratchy radio static of the opening bars, am I stuck still in the threshold? “Why are we still out here holding our coats? … Goodbyes always take us half an hour. Can’t we just go home?”

As if it has shaken itself out of its own second thoughts, that’s when the album starts moving forward: “Walk it Back” opens with an unprece­dented syn­the­sized bass line that proves right the Wall Street Journal’s opti­mistic reviewer: they’re now elec­tronic, con­tem­porary, modern. And yet: “Nothing I change changes any­thing; I won’t let it ruin my head.”

Some see this step forward as a spir­itual one even more than an expe­ri­ential one: their pro­mo­tional website is called American Mary, and ref­er­ences to the Beast get pretty Serpent in the Garden pretty fast. But it’s com­pli­cated: Who’s the mother here? What sort of sal­vation are we talking about? What Beasts has Matt put to rest?

The song samples a speech that is stuck in the recent past, as well: “We’re history’s actors…” It mumbles its way on, like lis­tening to the radio through the wall in someone else’s apartment. A message of deliv­erance almost over­heard, a lesson of per­sonal growth almost learned: “Appar­ently that was written on a white­board with a red sharpie in the Roo­sevelt bedroom, sometime around Christmas 2007. Yeah, so I can’t stay.”

2007: The mem­ories are still so close. The music again, as Matt leaves the house only to think of what he has left behind: “I can’t stay and I can’t come back / I’ll just keep awake / And I won’t react / I’ll walk through Lawrencetown / Along the tracks / My own body in my arms / But I won’t col­lapse / … If I’m going to get back to you, someday / I’ll need your light.”

I didn’t know it was time to move on until the National told me to. It’s the voice of maturity, of turning from the lit window and walking home to where, like it or not, I live now. It’s time to put the beasts and the mem­ories to rest. But for now, a final parting glance through the window to imprint this on my memory, to the tune of “I’ll Still Destroy You”: “I’m gonna miss those long nights with the windows open / I keep re-reading the same lines always up at 5 a.m. every morning / Like a baby / It’s just the lights coming on.”

With the National, there’s always space for doubt. That’s what the music is for, and “Guilty Party” promises it’s nobody’s fault in what is perhaps the most hopeful moment in the album: “I say your name. I say I’m sorry … It’s nobody’s fault, no guilty party. I’ve just got nothing, nothing left to say. It all, all catches up to me all the time.”

I study poetry, and as I think through Matt’s lyrics, I come back to a theory from one of the wisest writers I know: that poetry is about making clichés ring true again. Music is about that too, and art: finding a way to live when the old stories and the old metaphors don’t seem to fit anymore.

I don’t know how “Sleep Well Beast” will catch up with me. But maybe it’s all there on the album cover: one window lit on the side of a wooden house, a group of friends getting up from dinner. The sun is gone, and so is the color; Sleep Well Beast is a twi­light world, and it’s the new sound­track for walking with hands in pockets, peeking in the windows of lives that may have once been my own.

“Sleep Well Beast” is about moving on, and how that too takes time and a long glance backward.