EL VY: Return To The Moon
The National's Matt Berninger coupled up with Ramona Falls' and Menomena's Brent Knopf earlier this year to collaborate on a new musical project: EL VY.
Berninger's decision to step away from his main project to do something different feels like a necessary move after The National's latest album, Trouble Will Find Me. While the album was praised by critics for its more personal tone, it added little to what the band had already offered on previous records, leaving many fans somewhat disappointed. EL VY's debut, Return To The Moon, follows this up with an album that, according to Berninger, is the “most autobiographical” work he has written.
Return To The Moon is a welcome change with its first single 'Return to the Moon (Political Song for Didi Bloome to Sing, with Crescendo)' setting high expectations prior to the album's release. As the opening track, it promises something rhythmically - even if not lyrically - more upbeat than anything we have heard from either Berninger or Knopf before. However, as the album progresses, it becomes clear that the transition to something new won't be as simple as they would hope.
Berninger's voice, and relatively limited range, doesn't lend itself to much diversity – while it suits The National's apathy, his voice hasn't found its place within the less focused and more simplistic world of EL VY. The result is that songs like 'I'm the Man To Be' sound like a forced attempt to do something more experimental, whereas the following tracks seem to fall into a rather different category.
With a few exceptions, the songs sound quite boring and like album-fillers that almost make you forget that you are still listening (and not in a good Brian Eno way). 'No Time To Crank The Sun' is the first song, after the very first track, that makes you feel like you are listening to something actually substantial. It echoes the simple electronic sounds of the legendary American busker, The Space Lady. Sung by Berninger, there's a new, exciting perspective to the music. EL VY play with many different genres on Return To The Moon and this one at least seems to work.
The album surprises you once again when it reaches 'Sleeping Light' which offers contagious riffs that sound more like something that suits both artists, rather than a carefully constructed attempt to do something that will generate more interest or acclaim. 'Sleeping Light' is also packed with Leonard Cohen references; the album clearly exudes a Cohen-y atmosphere, especially in songs like 'Silent Ivy Hotel', and 'Sleeping Light' verbalises the problem with this – EL VY just “ain't no Leonard Cohen”.
Overall, the expectations for Return To The Moon were high, perhaps too high, and the full album doesn't quite live up to those hopes. While its track listing includes a near-masterpiece or two, as well as a bunch of songs that sound great on their own, it is not a cohesive piece of work and seems to stumble over its own desire to seem different. It is, of course, natural for a new band to still be looking for their sound, but given the fact that EL VY have been in the spotlight since they formed, you would expect Berninger and Knopf to only release an album after finding a more definitive style.