Matt Berninger and Brent Knopf are not strangers to the music industry. Berninger’s band, The National, has been around since the late nineties and has released six albums since they formed. The National’s sound has hints of very dark, sometimes scary lyricism and half-spoken, half-sung delivery from Berninger. The National has risen to considerable fame following the release of their most recent album “Trouble Will Find Me” in 2013.
Knopf’s musical career has also steadily climbed. Beginning in the 2000s with Menomena before creating Ramona Falls, Knopf has received considerable acclaim for both bands. Each of Knopf’s bands has a happier, less gritty sound compared to The National. While The National is no doubt a “grown man band”, Ramona Falls and Menomena are more akin to what you would consider your basic brand of indie rock.
With the rising popularity of the musical supergroup (take for example fun. or the more recent Jack U), there’s no wonder Matt Berninger and Brent Knopf decided to band together to have their own take on the common practice. Together, the duo make up the new band EL VY, which released its first full-length album titled “Return to the Moon” in late October of this year.
Throughout the album’s 11 tracks, listeners are taken through an audio rollercoaster that never quite gets to the big drop that everyone loves. Instead, we only get to hear Berninger’s sad lyric delivery paired awkwardly with the sparkly, bright backing tracks. The end result is an album that sounds lazy. It almost sounds like Berninger is first learning the song as he sings it and is only going through the motions as a result. That style worked with The National’s dark melodies and production, but it falls short on “Return to the Moon.”
“I’m the Man to Be”: If the rest of the album had sounded like the second track, “I’m the Man to Be,” I would have loved it. Berninger grumbles, “I’m such a baby I could totally cry. My hands are so sticky, and the belt’s too tight,” amidst the sounds of heavy percussion and whiny guitars. The lyrics get even raunchier from there. The groovy, fun and risqué song is without a doubt the best on the LP.
“No Time to Crank the Sun”: Any song with backing vocals that only say “Mmhmm” is practically begging to be either totally wonderful or an absolute mess. Luckily, the band does a great job with this track. It has all the trappings of those nostalgic anthems everyone loves to sing around graduation time, but it does something completely different with the trope. Instead of wrapping arms around your classmates’ shoulders, the steady drum beat and background vocals give you the urge to slowly sway with your eyes closed and your hands in the air.
“Sleeping Light”: The transition from the ringing instrumentals at the opening of this track to the sound of Berninger’s vocals at the end is a bit awkward. But the song is saved by its lyrics, which are inventive (if a little weird). The song’s light and airy sound pairs well with Berninger’s detached-sounding vocals.
This album from EL VY is worth a listen — but don’t get your hopes up. If you’ve never heard of Berninger’s or Knopf’s other work, I suggest you try those out first. Ramona Falls, The National and Menomena, have put out more cohesive, if not better albums than EL VY’s first effort. As for the future of EL VY, I’m sure they have a long way to go in the industry. However, like most side projects, EL VY has only two options: They can either fizzle out slowly or become the members’ main band. Unfortunately, with the release of “Return to the Moon,” EL VY is already showing signs of fizzling. We can only hope that the band will reverse course with its next effort.