El Vy’s “Return to the Moon” a Highly Satisfying Album

3 May

For the past 15 years, Matt Berninger has been lead vocalist and lyricist for the revered indie band, the National. Brent Knopf is an extraordinary guitarist, formerly of Menomena and of late with Portland’s Ramona Falls.

Near the end of 2015, Berninger and Knopf got together under the name El Vy to create a side project collaboration called Return to the Moon.

While the National is usually associated with music that’s somewhat dark, dense and introspective, El Vy’s album is more upbeat, accessible and personal. Berninger has never provided as much insight into his true thoughts and feelings as he does through the lyrics on the 11 tracks on Return to the Moon.

People who love the National needn’t worry that the El Vy album will disappoint them. There’s still plenty here that’s reminiscent of Berninger’s main gig — starting with his gorgeous, baritone and singing style that sounds almost spoken — plus plenty of quirky, mind-bending lyrics. But there are simply more fun, (fun…the National?) melodic and memorable tracks than in the usual offering from the National.

The album opens with the title track. Full name: “Return to the Moon (Political Song for Didi Bloome to Sing, with Crescendo).” The song is an upbeat, fun (there’s that word again) and almost danceable surprise. Berninger’s breezy vocals play over Knopf’s skittering guitar phrases and complementary rhythm. The handclap-infused chorus is also a highlight.

The third track, “Paul Is Alive,” is amazing. The Randy Newman-like arrangement has a slip-sliding feeling — with the guitar lines, keyboards, bass, and drums playing peek-a-boo. The chorus includes a gospel-sounding organ and big backing vocals.

“No Time to Crank the Sun” is a piano-based heart-tugger that has a reverential feeling. Bass and keyboards dominate, with interesting male backup vocals.

The next track, “It’s a Game,” is a lilting love ballad with Berninger’s wistful, hopeful vocals a standout. Liquid synths appear at multiple points. This track is one of the closest in sound to the National’s usual fare.

This album was released toward the end of 2015, although KZSU wasn’t able to add it to our fresh list of music until the past several months. Critics’ reviews have been mixed. But if you’re looking for an indie album with a variety of interesting tunes and smart lyrics, El Vy’s Return to the Moon is a great choice.

 

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