The National frontman collaborates with Brent Knopf
“Do whatever moves you,” Matt Berninger, The National front man, sings on Return to the Moon. This debut album from his new side project, EL VY, is a collaboration with Menomena’s and Ramona Falls’ Brent Knopf.
That philosophy holds true for Berninger, whose distinguishable voice and melancholy, oftentimes witty lyrics listeners have come to know through his other work are as apparent as ever — if not more so.
Despite the fact that I can easily empathize with all complaints against The National, they have (sometimes to my surprise) remained one of my favorite bands.
So when Berninger first announced this new project, I was worried. What would this new project be like? Would this collaboration seriously alter the style of subsequent National albums? Or worse, would this be the start of a lengthy hiatus or the end of The National?
While differences from The National were easily apparent in the first few singles released prior to the full album, I was pleased by the lack of major differences, and the album is fairly similar to what you might expect a National album to be.
Berninger’s recognizable baritone is ever-present, his lyrics are focused more on conveying a certain mood or feeling rather than a literal representation and the melancholia so characteristic of The National is also clear, most notably on the closing track, “Careless.” In contrast to The National however, Knopf’s playful, light and whimsical accompaniments — immediately recognizable on the danceable “Return to the Moon” and funky “I’m the Man to Be” — serve as a successful backdrop for the work as a whole, a defining characteristic of this collaboration.
The album also drops a few clever references to Berninger’s main project. The album’s title track, “Return to the Moon (Political Song for Didi Bloome to Sing, with Crescendo),” includes a reference to “crescendo rock,” a genre The National has frequently been pinned with. And on “I’m the Man to Be,” Berninger declares, “I can’t even look at reviews anymore / I score an 8.6 on a f***ing par 4,” alluding to the 8.6 score Pitchfork gave The National’s critically acclaimed Boxer.
On a similar note, this project also makes room for Berninger to practice his humor in hyperbole: “You were supposed to be here before the last song / You were supposed to bring me your brother’s weed,” Berninger cries on the purposely overdramatic “Need a Friend,” followed by resounding chants of “This is heartbreaking, heartbreaking, heartbreaking.”
Berninger has said this new album is his most personal work yet, and although the meaning behind lyrics is difficult to decode, the album is clearly deeply rooted in his hometown, Cincinnati, OH, with references to Eden Park, the Serpentine Wall, “f***ing Delhi,” “not f***ing Over-the-Rhine” and The Jockey Club, a local nightclub where many of Berninger’s musical idols passed through during his childhood.
It will be interesting to see what EL VY does together in the future.
For now, Return to the Moon is a commendable first release, with memorable standouts being the title track, “I’m the Man to Be,” “No Time to Crank the Sun” and “It’s a Game.”
EL VY played tracks from their debut album, Return to the Moon, at Milwaukee’s Turner Hall on Friday, November 20.
By Eli Frank