EL VY - Return to the Moon (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

EL VY

Return to the Moon (2015)

4AD


There is a noticeable lack of immediacy on EL VY’s debut. The familiar baritone of Matt Berninger is always welcome, but this is not a National record. No, Return to the Moon trades in the three-piece suit for a slightly less formal button down. Berninger’s collaborative album with former Menomena/current Ramona Falls member Brent Knopf finds the two escaping their constrictive day jobs. To some extent, it succeeds.

“Return to the Moon (Political Song for Didi Bloome to Sing, With Crescendo)” and “I’m the Man to Be” open the album trying to convince us that these guys can be fun too. On “I’m the Man to Be” especially, Berninger’s dark humor bleeds out. “I’m peaceful ‘cause my dick’s in sunlight” and “I’ll be the one in the lobby in the green collared fuck me shirt” are two of the oddest and funniest lines heard all year, but also reflect the lyricist's attention to detail. It’s the high point of the album and the closest Matt Berninger will probably ever get to sounding like a hip hop star. But, here, he’s got the bravado and cocksure attitude to make it work.

Return to the Moon is quietly a concept album taking place in Berninger’s home state of Ohio (and featuring nods to the Jockey Club, Delhi, and Over the Rhine, to name a few). Love and romance play prominent roles, whether in the back of a club or in Happiness, Missouri. Berninger’s youth sets the scene for lovers Didi and Michael, who are based on Minutemen's D. Boon and Mike Watt's friendship, and filtered through his daughter’s love of Grease, apparently. The young lovers' story is a welcome change from the adulthood problems that The National often harp on.

Knopf does his part differentiating EL VY with plenty of frenetic guitar work. There’s hip-hop on “I’m the Man to Be” and horror movie soundtracking on “Paul is Alive” and “Silent Ivy Hotel.” The albums’ centerpiece “No Time to Crank the Sun” is a true beauty although it transitions into the slower back half where the album loses steam. There’s still plenty of story to tell, but after “Sun,” the album gets less experimental, settling into a slow tempo comfort zone. Sure, there are glimmers of hope here and there (“It’s a Game,” “Sleepin’ Light”) but it never returns to the success of the early singles.

While Return to the Moon is good, it’s not the momentous occasion the next National album is sure to be. It is, however, a refreshing change of pace for its well-defined members. If the future grants us more EL VY, the hope would be aiming too high, tapping into further, weirder impulses.