By Jarrett Edmund, Nov. 3 2015 —
Melancholic dad-rocker Matt Berninger of The National recently joined forces with Portland’s Brent Knopf to form EL VY. The duo recently released Return to the Moon, their debut under the new alias.
Though Berninger’s distinct baritone and Knopf’s crafty multi-instrumentalism come together on the album, Return to the Moon is an uncharacteristically lighthearted record by the two often serious musicians. Knopf addressed this curiosity in a recent interview.
“Left to our own devices, music we write can have more of an Eeyore kind of character. Somehow when you put it together, there’s a sense of breeziness or adventurousness,” Knopf explained.
For fans of The National, Berninger’s familiar droll delivery and disjointed poetry are still present, but his emotional tone has shifted. Return to the Moon’s title track plays like a goofy dad reciting corny jokes while Berninger showcases his dry wit over lush production.
This tone is driven further by lead single “I’m The Man to Be,” where Berninger whimsically sings “I’ll be the one in the lobby in the collared fuck-me shirt — the green one.” EL VY is unhinged, as the duo darts between sincerity and self-depreciating slapstick.
“I’d never been so alone until I was today,” Berninger sings woefully on late cut “It’s a Game.” The song is the closest Return to the Moon gets to his work with The National, and is unfortunately the best song the album has to offer. Knopf is clearly a brilliant musician, creating tender yet complex cradles for Berninger’s brain children, but the end result hardly equals the sum of its parts.
For listeners unfamiliar with EL VY’s other projects, Return to the Moon is an expertly produced collection of songs expressing a range of characters and emotions. But as a muse for Berninger’s wandering stories, Return to the Moon never quite ascends beyond the annotation of a mostly forgettable side-project.
Ignoring the first two tracks, which channel the unexpected bawdiness of a Bob Saget comedy routine, EL VY just feels like a sub-par record from The National. Return to the Moon is a series of inside jokes — and maybe it’s better to just smile, laugh and pretend you understand.