Return to the Moon
When people think of Ohio indie rockers the National, they probably think of sort of sad, existential music. With all the theatrics the Dessner brothers are able to drum up and lead singer Matt Berninger’s deep baritone voice, the National’s sound is wholly distinct but also full of melancholy. But sometimes with all that heaviness you just need a spritzer. Matt Berninger’s latest project with Brent Knopf of the playful, dynamic Texas band Menomena is that just right change of pace: a quick, relatively light record that makes the most of Berninger’s soulful vocals but especially his sense of humor.
Return to the Moon, the band’s debut, has been stated as Matt Berninger’s most personal writing but is also a vague concept record around the musical love story of D. Boon and Mike Watt of the 80’s punk band the Minutemen. The reality falls somewhere in the middle of these extremes: it relives his childhood and finding the Cincinatti music scene on songs like “Paul is Alive” and “Return to the Moon” and the album crescendos on “It’s a Game” which mourns the end of the Minutemen, but mostly these songs seemingly stand alone. Most everything else as you would expect is full of the witty one-liners and Freudian slips that Berninger loves to slip in.
Brent Knopf brings out a more humorous, energetic side of Berninger well with his more swift and lively instrumentation. The two made the album mostly by passing demos back and forth over email, but it certainly sounds like the two were well connected on this record. Song to song, the tone or the feel changes significantly, not staying in any place or any mood too long, whereas National albums usually capture a singular mood throughout. They’ll pop from a creepy, whodunit vibe like “Silent Ivy Hotel” to a heartfelt piano ballad like “No Time to Crank the Sun” to the soaring “It’s a Game” effortlessly. Like his own band Menomena, Knopf creates pop songs with a full spectrum of arrangements and instrumentation: it’s like a kid with a toy chest of musical ideas that he just keeps pulling out new ones to inspire him.
If you don’t like the National, you may well like El Vy’s Return to the Moon. It’s brighter, more playful, and probably more palatable to most. If you do like the National, you will probably appreciate this as a holdover until we get another National record. And if you don’t know the National, start with 2007’s The Boxer and then feel free to check out El Vy as time permits.
Can’t Miss: “Return to the Moon”, “Happiness, Missouri”, “It’s a Game”, “I’m the Man to Be”
Can’t Hit: None