Grammy oddities

Grammy nominees for alternative album, the National drew from the Dead before making 'Sleep Well Beast'

The National performs in  2015. (Brill / ullstein bild)
The National performs in 2015. (Brill / ullstein bild)

Nominated in the alternative music album category, the National’s “Sleep Well Beast” has earned praise for a looser but still intricate sound and lead singer Matt Berninger’s downcast lyrics, which touch on politics as well as his usual chronicles of domestic uncertainty.

Citing the band’s need to “open a new chapter,” guitarist and “Sleep Well Beast” producer Aaron Dessner spoke to The Times this fall about the new album, which he said was colored by each member’s side projects, including his work with bandmate and twin brother Bryce curating last year’s compilation “Day of the Dead.”

A 59-track venture through the Grateful Dead catalog that included performances by Wilco, Moses Sumney and Vijay Iyer (to name a few), the set connected the band with the Dead’s Bob Weir, who in turn recorded with members of the National for his 2016 album, “Blue Mountain.” The collaboration left an impression going into “Sleep Well Beast.”

“It wasn’t like we set out to say, ‘Let’s synthesize our artistic goals’ or something, but it was definitely in the air that nobody wanted to make a tightly composed, graceful National record,” Dessner said. “Because we’d already done that.”

Berninger said he was less involved with the “Day of the Dead” project, but still drew some “rock wisdom” from Weir. “Little things, details like when you’re in the middle of a show and you feel like it’s going too fast, just take a deep breath and just pull it back, slow it down. [Weir] likes to slow down. We get so frantic and worked up shows run away. … We’re learning to control our own rhythms and paces in different ways.”

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