Since Boxer, I’ve grown a bit weary of The National. Still think they’re talented musicians, but as the critical acclaim built and the record sales kept growing, I feel like they’ve been playing it safe. It’s been the same formula for their last couple albums, neither of which satisfied me the way their earlier albums do. So when it was announced that Matt Berninger would be releasing an album with Brent Knopf of Menomena, my interest was certainly piqued. They put out the single, title track “Return To The Moon (Political Song For Didi Bloome to Sing, with Crescendo)”, and I liked it right away. Even the pretentious title was funny to me, and that sly sense of humor was one of many things I found missing from current-era National.
Berninger’s voice is so recognizable that it’s hard to build music around it that people wouldn’t immediately assume is The National, but El Vy does well to set themselves apart. There’s a real vibe of The Clash doing new wave type stuff here-weird guitar splashes in and out of synthy keyboards and foundations that build and fall away gracefully, allowing some space for Berninger to intimate his ideas without the disconnection I feel from High Violet.
`On my first listen to the album I immediately moved “I’m The Man To Be” into my top songs of the year playlist on Spotify. It is not at all what I was expecting from this duo, You get the feeling that Berninger was up late listening to Knopf’s other bands and wanted to try something even more unusual. It’s almost like the early, experimental Modest Mouse songs, but with better lyrics. The auto-erotic asphyxiation angle gets played up in almost every line, and at the end Berninger sings “I can’t even look at reviews anymore. I score an 8.6 on a fucking par 4. Hanging like a ragdoll from the door, cause I’m the man to be.”
That song got me thinking about Q Lazzarus’s “Goodbye Horses,” and there does seem to be a kind of odd connection between them. Maybe it seeped into the El Vy music while Berninger was getting buzzed and writing lyrics while watching SIlence Of The Lambs. They both have an understated glam rock vibe, which might be the least expected thing for Berninger to do.
The rest of the album is equally solid. I’m hard pressed to call out any individual track as being not up to snuff with the rest of them. I’m actually amazed at how much I have enjoyed the record, and continue to enjoy it on multiple listens. With Knopf by his side, Berninger is free to try new things and not stick to that same THE NATIONAL sound to which we’ve grown so accustom. The record is out now, available to stream on Spotify. I recommend you buy it, though, and let these guys know that you support their efforts to do something new.
You can also catch them on the road, with a tour currently underway. Check their site for all dates.