EL VY, a side project of Matt Berninger (The National), dropped a curious album, Return to the Moon, on October 30th. The title track is stellar. It features unfathomably creative, Berninger-esque lyrical content: “Scratched a ticket with the leg of a cricket, and I got triple Jesus,” “Went to bed and woke up inside another man’s head, nobody noticed,” and much more. Berninger would undoubtedly bring life to any band with his voice alone; the bonus in “Return to the Moon” is a new sound via the musical contributions of EL VY’s other half, Brent Knopf. Berninger’s vocal effort, coupled with Knopf’s anti-National upbeat instrumentation, weaves together the cheerfully melancholy “Return to the Moon.”
Sadly, issues arise with the turning of the second track. “I’m the Man to Be” has solid lyrics, but the overall flow of the song feels…off. Thankfully, this is purely an exploratory album, because the random guitar riffs and rhythm shifts of this song make me sort of nauseous. I am even more confused by the unexpected break from the song at about the three-minute mark. To compound that bewilderment, “Need a Friend” and “Silent Ivy Hotel” have the base structure of some musical piece left behind in a church pew following service. These negatives counted, I am further spun around by “It’s a Game.” It borrows elements of The National’s previous work Cherry Tree, but is not nearly as interconnected.
I am glad, though, that I persevered in spite of a few horrid tracks. I trusted Matt Berninger, and that faith was rewarded with a listening of the epic “Sad Case.” But wait, there’s more…as “Happiness, Missouri” picks up musically exactly where “Sad Case” leaves off. I actually had to replay the ending of “Sad Case” to discern where one ended and the other began. The two serve as a buoy to uplift the end of the piece. These final songs, though, are much too reminiscent of the typical National sound. If Berninger plans on continuing with this side-group, he needs to focus on the core sound that has skyrocketed “Return to the Moon” to 2 million listens on Spotify. His fame alone can guide a listenership, but EL VY’s next piece needs to be much more fluid. This feels like a collage of very different singles, and such diversity does not a good album make. EL VY is travelling to the 9:30 Club this Wednesday, and I am still not sure if I will be in attendance. The new album is decent, but I think I may wait until the band’s sophomore effort (if it comes) to see a live performance.