It’s not unusual for accomplished musicians to collaborate on a side project; these typically allow musicians to experiment and work with other artists to create an eclectic mix of sounds that forms something more unique than their previous works. Brent Knopf of Ramona Falls and Menomena and The National’s Matt Berninger recently joined together to release a new album, “Return to the Moon,” under the name EL VY.
With Berninger on vocal duty and Knopf working on the instrumentals, “Return to the Moon” belongs in its own impossible-to-define genre. A mix of electronic synths and Berninger’s take on mainstream indie rock, this record has a chance to become a classic due to the blending of old sounds from previous releases and new sounds brainstormed for this album. However, EL VY hits some snags along the way.
The opening track, “Return to the Moon (Political Song for Didi Bloome to Sing, With Crescendo),” is a happy marriage between the two musicians’ distinct sounds. Though Berninger’s crooning is reminiscent of his vocals on The National’s latest album, “Trouble Will Find Me,” the instrumentals, in particular Knopf’s keyboard, give the song a more lightweight quality.
This mixing of sounds falls short in a few places though, most notably in “I’m The Man To Be.” The seductive lyrics make no sense coupled with the Led Zeppelin-esque instrumentals, and it doesn’t mesh well with the rest of the album’s sound.
“Paul Is Alive” and “It’s A Game” sound like they also belong on the National’s “Trouble Will Find Me.” The overall sound of “Paul Is Alive” mirrors parts of “I Should Live In Salt” and “Demons,” with lyrics like “I came out here to disappear / And disconnect the dots.” “It’s A Game” capitalizes on this National-like tone and uses it to its advantage. It is songs like these that make me feel that EL VY has a strong tendency to lean towards Berninger’s sound, instead of keeping a more even balance between the two artists’ sounds.
But, the album’s softer folk ballads like “No Time To Crank The Sun,” personally what I consider this album’s strongest song, are where EL VY succeeds the most. The chanting towards the end of the track coupled with Berninger’s powerful lyrics pulls the song as well as the entire album together.
EL VY isn’t exactly a failure, but the two distinct sides of indie rock that Berninger and Knopf bring to the table don’t always work well together. “Return to the Moon” is still a must-buy if you’re a fan of either artist’s primary band, but don’t expect miracles from the album.