Unlike other members of The National (particularly the Dessner twins) Matt Berninger has mostly shied away from other collaborations, however given Brent Knopf’s knack for brighter and more dynamic indie production, it would appear that both parties would be given an opportunity to aid one another on their light-hearted side project, EL VY.
For Berninger, it is a project not nearly as heavy as The National, where he can truly play around with a new style. For Knopf, it is a chance to work with a close friend (having met while touring over a decade ago), and one of most prominent voices of modern alternative rock.
On Return To The Moon, both parties greet their respective opportunities with open arms. Whether or not these opportunities are taken well will undoubtedly split opinion. For fans of The National, this is a huge departure from what Berninger’s voice is usually applied to. For that very reason, it works both as a blessing and a curse. The blessing: Berninger is offered more freedom lyrically and in his vocal performance. The curse: Berninger is offered more freedom lyrically and in his vocal performance.
On tracks like ‘Need A Friend’, the pair work off of one another in a simple and effective, yet definitely playful, way. Knopf creates a casual funk heavy framework for Berninger to overlay more risqué lyrics than we have previously seen in his work with the National. His typical casual baritone subtly questions: “You were supposed to be here before the last song, you were supposed to bring your brother’s weed” to a humorous result, despite his voice being reasonably low in the mix.
However, on lead single ‘I’m The Man To Be’, the direction of the group’s work seems all too messy and confused. Berninger tries his hand at falsetto and spoken word, and the instrumentation seems to be picked at random with The National frontman leading a refrain of: “I’m peaceful cause my d*ck’s in sunlight”… Not exactly his finest poetry.
Viewing the project as a lighthearted experiment, there are definite positives to to take in how the pair play off each other and offer proof that there is more to Matt Berninger than the sorrowful frontman everyone is used to hearing.