Album Review: EL VY—“Return To The Moon”

By Jennifer Hyc

If there is one thing to take away from the album’s self-titled single, it is that alt-rock’s favourite sad dad has thrown us a bit of a curveball. Specifically, Matt Berninger is singing on a danceable track. I admit, I was skeptical of that ever happening, given the guy’s consistency for singing melancholic slow-burners. That skepticism turned into a slightly embarrassing but joyful little bounce in my library chair. We have Brent Knopf to thank for that new development.

EL VY (rhymes with “elf pie”) is the collaborative project of decade-long friends Matt Berninger, frontman of famed alt-rockers The National, and Brent Knopf, best known for his work with the bands Menomena and Ramona Falls. After exchanging musical ideas and lyrics for years, the pair finally decided to get together and record their first album, Return to the Moon. The end result is a satisfying marriage between old habits and new possibilities for both parties involved. Fans of The National can certainly expect the same dark and humorous cynicism of Berninger’s lyrics, now spread over Knopf’s tantalizing arrangements.

Album art for Return to the Moon

Album art for Return to the Moon

Return to the Moon embodies a space for Matt Berninger to experiment with alternative versions of the people in his life, but most especially, himself. In interviews, he mentioned the project as more autobiographical than any of his previous work. Don’t expect some kind of tell-all, though. In typical Berninger fashion, he treads and subsequently blurs the line between fiction and reality constantly. On the track “I’m The Man to Be”, the protagonist is a swaggering and arrogant rock star, making drunken calls to family back home when he isn’t wearing “the green-coloured ‘fuck me’ shirt” and avoiding music reviews (Pitchfork? Pitchfork). Although the song isn’t exactly an autobiographical account of Berninger’s life, the rock star persona is one he clearly is interested in dissecting throughout the album. There is a certain level of confidence and looseness in Matt’s presentation that suggest that he is genuinely enjoying himself and is allowing himself a longer leash. He most certainly trusts Brent Knopf’s artistic capabilities.

Amidst all of the constructed narratives present on the album, there is at least one thing that is made loud and clear—fame can make you really, really lonely. “Need A Friend” is an outright cry for a meaningful and basic human connection amidst all of the madness of tour life. Unsurprisingly, loneliness and fame are also themes in The National’s recent discography. One can’t reasonably expect things to be all that different for him with this new side project, after all.

It’s easy for people to preoccupy themselves with Matt Berninger’s lyrical stylings, but let’s not undermine Brent Knopf’s production skills here. The instrumentals are rife with catchy and accessible hooks, balanced well with unsuspectingly adventurous inserts. Knopf’s talent shines especially on “Paul Is Alive”, a scintillating blend of acoustic guitar and synthesizers, gradually adding layers while retaining its crystalline quality.

By no means at all does it seem like the band will be replacing The National at any time soon (or ever, really). The same can be said about Ramona Falls. Overall, the result is certainly some type of departure from the acts they are most associated with. There is no denying, however, that even though Matt Berninger has cut himself a bit loose with this project, he continues to hold firmly to the sounds and themes that make him so recognizable to the music world. (4AD)

Listen: “Paul Is Alive”

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