Release Date: Oct 30, 2015
Record label: 4AD
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
People tend to think of an artist's side-project as having less credibility than his main output vehicle, but that should not be the case for EL VY. A partnership made up of Matt Berninger of The National and Brent Knopf of Menomena and Ramona Falls, EL VY makes highly polished studio indie pop. The musical sensibilities of both members come through so strongly that it's easy to treat Return to the Moon as merely a debut album from a new band.
Matt Berninger and Brent Knopf of El Vy met while their bands – the National and Menomena respectively – were hauling their instruments across the dingy west coast club circuit. Almost a decade later, they’ve accumulated this collaborative album – an off-duty experiment, a pressure-free hobby, more Broken Bells than McCartney and MJ. Berninger in particular sounds liberated from the weight of his day job: his lyrics flitting from melodramatic (“I think the world’s about to end / I don’t need your love I just need a friend”) to knowing (“I can’t even look at reviews anymore / I score an 8.6 on fucking par 4”).
There was an old sketch in the first season of That Mitchell and Webb Look – a spin-off of the similarly named radio show by Peep Show stars David Mitchell and Robert Webb – called 'Angel Summoner and BMX Bandit'. The premise was simple: they were a pair of superheroes, one with the power to summon a celestial horde, the other with some wicked BMX skillz. It was kinda funny.
It took time for Matt Berninger to come out of his shell. His early days fronting The National were littered with awkward gigs at which the gawky young singer would down red wine for his nerves, keep his back to the crowd and struggle to hit the high notes. But starting with 2005’s ‘Alligator’, one critically acclaimed record followed another and a new man emerged.
Matt Berninger has never been backed by anyone except his bandmates in The National. As a result, a lack of versatility has become the only blot on the record of one of the most compelling frontmen around. When his collaborative album with Brent Knopf of Menomena - under the name EL VY - was announced, it opened up the door for Berninger to show what else he can offer.
Having been friends for a good 12 years now, it was only a matter of time before Matt Berninger (The National) and Brent Knopf (Menomena) finally got around to making an album together. EL VY is the result of the pair’s long term dalliance and the whittling down of around 450 demo ideas, which seems, on the surface at least to be a pressure release for Berninger and a chance to indulge in a little fun. Of course the problem Berninger (and indeed any project that he puts those vocals to) faces is that his voice is so well tied to his main band, that many of the songs on Return To The Moon sound as if they might well be slightly wonky offcuts from The National.
Return to the Moon is the debut album of EL VY, a collaboration between vocalist/lyricist Matt Berninger of the National and multi-instrumentalist/songwriter Brent Knopf of Ramona Falls, formerly of Menomena. The album blends the lighter side of both indie rock artists, offering funky, catchy, if melancholy ditties that bob along Knopf's textured arrangements, which are fond of syncopated percussion and guitar, quirky new wave synths, and rich, articulate tones from top to bottom. Accompanying what have been presented as fictionalized autobiographical lyrics by Berninger in interviews, the singer's trademark pensive baritone adds weight to even dance-minded material and handclaps, as on the lead single "Return to the Moon (Political Song for Didi Bloome to Sing, with Crescendo).
After a lengthy tour in support of Trouble Will Find Me, The National's Matt Berninger has teamed up with Brent Knopf of Ramona Falls as EL VY. Rhyming with "hell pie," the duo's songs retain Berninger's esoteric lyrical style, but the music has an understandably different slant to that of the National's. Opening with the grooving title track, alternately titled "Political Song for Didi Bloome to Sing, with Crescendo," EL VY craft danceable guitar and smart bass lines.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. EL VY (the press release states that the name rhymes with "hell pie") is a collaborative effort put together by Matt Berninger of the National, and Brent Knopf, once the mainstay behind Menomena, who is making music as Ramona Falls nowadays. With both of their bands getting ready to release new material in 2016, it would be easy and lazy to dismiss their debut album Return to the Moon with the dreaded term "side project." The term suggests something that has been hastily created in a stop-gap, which could easily be cast aside when their other act gets busy again.
"I ain't no Leonard Cohen," sings Matt Berninger, the lead singer of the National, towards the end of his latest album. Indeed, Berninger has gone to lengths to position his new musical detour as more playful, less dour, than his work with the National: The Taylor Swift-approved lead single, "Return to the Moon," with its bouncy disco strut and handclap-assisted chorus, is the first song in his catalog that could remotely be considered danceable. Despite his best intentions, however, Berninger's latest quickly verges into territory quite familiar to longtime fans of the National.
The National’s Aaron and Bryce Dessner routinely collaborate far and wide; National singer Matt Berninger, not so much. Turns out Berninger has had an off-on dalliance with Brent Knopf (Menomena/Ramona Falls), kept in a folder on his laptop, called “The Moon”. The appeal of this low-key grower lies in Berninger’s woebegone baritone, rubbing up against non-National music that is neither taxing nor obvious.
There is a noticeable lack of immediacy on EL VYâ€™s debut. The familiar baritone of Matt Berninger is always welcome, but this is not a National record. No, Return to the Moontrades in the three-piece suit for a slightly less formal button down. Berningerâ€™s collaborative album with former Menomena/current Ramona Falls member Brent Knopf finds the two escaping their constrictive day jobs.
Formed in no way as a mere side project (an unwritten rule of all side projects) of The National’s Matt Berninger and Menomena’s Brent Knopf, EL VY’s debut has taken a year to release. It’s promised to be running alongside full releases from both artists’ “main bands”, so maybe one shouldn’t be dismissive of it. There’s certainly no mistaking Berninger’s voice or lyrics: “I scratched the ticket with the leg of a cricket,” he offers on the opening title track, before confiding he’s scored “triple Jesus”; just as with The National, you somehow know exactly what he means, while still having no idea at all.
El VY (pronounced like the plural of Elvis, according to the press release) have apparently been working on their debut for years. The duo of The National’s Matt Berninger and Brent Knopf of Ramona Falls and Menomena has been particular about word choice, calling this a collaboration rather than a side project. However, Berninger and Knopf must have been putting in work on the project while also establishing their main projects.
Side projects rarely offer anything other than self-indulgence. They are, by their definition, an indulgent endeavour, an opportunity for an artist to delve into ideas and concepts that they wouldn’t be able to within the confines of their band or main musical project. While these side projects can be fun, it’s hard to shake off the nagging notion that you’re listening to Band X’s singer’s studio meanderings, not a fully-formed piece of music ready to be appreciated on its own terms.
When the National's Matt Berninger and former Menomena keyboardist/guitarist Brent Knopf announced that they were recording an album together, one thing was assured: the Internet would take notice. “Return to the Moon (Political Song for Didi Bloome to Sing, with Crescendo),” the first single from Return to the Moon, did little to temper expectations. Pairing Berninger's signature baritone and oblique nostalgia with Knopf's bright guitar and ebullient production, the song proved that the newly formed EL VY was capable of generating music that paid homage to each of the duo's more famous projects without being derivative.
It's probably unfair to compare EL VY, the new project from Matt Berninger (the National) and Brent Knopf (Ramona Falls, Menomena), to Berninger's main gig. The National have come to cast a surprisingly long shadow over indie rock: even if their booking at Barclays Center was more a case of "huge in New York" than "huge in Oklahoma," the National have emerged as a big-tent indie mainstay because their widescreen melancholia has proven durable and difficult to emulate. EL VY provides our first look at Berninger divorced from that context and a clue toward deciphering how much of the National's appeal hinges on Berninger's GQuaalude musings and how much belongs to his band's gilded alt-rock.
Matt Berninger has been on a decade-long hot streak with his band of (literal) brothers, The National, so it was simultaneously worrisome and exciting when he announced he’d briefly step away and try something new. It turns out that the new something—EL VY—is more of a gentle pivot than a full-on reinvention, and that nobody should’ve worried at all: Return To The Moon is one of the best albums of 2015. Though looser, simpler, and slinkier than his main band, EL VY—a partnership with his pal Brent Knopf, formerly of Menomena and currently of Ramona Falls—is also unmistakably Berninger, whose talky baritone would be difficult to disguise.
El Vy is the collaborative project of long-time friends, tour mates and mutual admirers Matt Berninger (the National) and Brent Knopf (Menomena/Ramona Falls). The duo chipped away at this debut album for years, Berninger steadily writing lyrics after arena shows and Knopf crafting the arrangements in his downtime. The result is a collection of upbeat indie rock songs that brings out the very best in both players.
As the lyricist and singer of the National, Matt Berninger isn’t exactly known for his wit. Doom and gloom better suit his band. Maybe that’s why EL VY, his new collaboration with Brent Knopf of Ramona Falls and formerly Menomena, is such a welcome detour. On “Return to the Moon,” their debut for 4AD, the duo play off each other’s strengths — Knopf’s kaleidoscopic art rock and Berninger’s impressionistic storytelling — to skim the best of both worlds.
Matt Berninger probably had every right to put his feet up for a while as of last November, when The National (ostensibly) brought the curtain down on eighteen months of touring for Trouble Will Find Me - for this reviewer’s money, their best yet - at The O2 in London. Instead, he’s been busier than ever; work on album number seven is apparently continuing apace, if a couple of new songs debuted over the course of a recent smattering of live shows are anything to go by, and he’s also found time to make good on a long-held desire to work with an old friend, Ramona Falls and past Menomena man Brent Knopf. If the cover of the resultant record is anything to go by, Berninger’s not even found the time for a haircut in a while.