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.
Opener, title track and first single ‘Return To The Moon’ sees Berninger and Knopf go straight for the knockout blow, washing away any preconception of what these two musicians might produce based on their previous work. It’s a gloriously funky cut that, while shining on its own, turns out to provide little insight to the styles that will sit on the rest of the record.
The remainder of the album sees Berninger fall back to styles nearer to those he’s exhibited with The National, ‘No Time To Crank The Sun’ coming closest to the band’s signature melancholy. ‘Silent Ivy Hotel’, meanwhile, sounds in the best possible way like the perfect fit for the next Bond theme.
The pummelling one-two of ‘Sad Case’ and ‘Happiness, Missouri’ provides ‘Return To The Moon’ with a crunch it appears to lack (or just not need - it doesn’t feel empty without it) until this point near its end, but it doesn’t feel unnecessary or out of place.
Lyrically, ‘Return To The Moon’ can at times be as Berninger as Berninger gets, continuing the trend begun with The National via Abel, Karen, Jenny and co. of addressing multiple different acquaintances by name, this time admitting to a Michael that he’s “been a sad case”. ‘I’m The Man To Be’, though, exudes a rarely seen confidence in his lyrics that borders on hilarity, stating “I’ll be the one in the lobby in the coloured ‘fuck me’ shirt… the green one”.
EL VY could have been many things for Matt Berninger - in the end his first non-National album serves to take him away from firm rooting in gloom to a certain extent, but largely just exhibits him doing everything he does so well, just with a few tweaks and exceptions.