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EL VY - Return To The Moon (Album Review)

Friday, 30 October 2015 Written by Graeme Marsh

Photo: Deirdre O'Callaghan

Following a series of outstanding albums, including ‘Boxer’ and ‘High Violet’, the National have become something of an institution. The band’s five members have often been involved in side projects, though, with the Dessner brothers leading the way. But vocalist Matt Berninger has been relatively quiet, until now.

EL VY is a collaboration between Berninger and Menomena/Ramona Falls multi-instrumentalist Brent Knopf. First meeting on tour over a decade ago, the pair eventually started swapping ideas via e-mail and subsequently tinkered with them on GarageBand.

Knopf has claimed that he sent something like 450 demos to Berninger, later housed in a folder named ‘The Moon’, for the singer to add lyrics to. The result is a partly autobiographical account, fleshed out by characters named after two members of the Minutemen, that largely reflects the randomness of its construction.

The album’s standout moment is the catchy title track and opener. Bouncing along in chirpy style to an upbeat tempo and infectious guitar riff, it marks a detour from anything Berninger has been involved with for some time, with the National more widely renowned for the hidden depths of their tracks.

Paul Is Alive performs a similar function and sees synths providing a decent backdrop, but it isn’t until the final moments that it really hits significant heights. Then, almost as soon as it got moving, it’s all over.

The superb, piano-led No Time To Crank The Sun provides a melancholy moment of beauty, with Berninger’s voice, alongside minimalist pulsing bass notes and captivating backing vocals, coming over as subtle yet grand. The similarly laid back It’s A Game is another laconic moment where he bemoans: “I’ve never been so alone ‘til I read that the Minutemen were dead.” Its delicate acoustics and electrifying piano, though, combine to provide another highlight.

On Happiness, Missouri keys and a spiky riff help create an almost theatrical performance, but when its excellent synth riff finally kicks in it’s too late. The song never soars as it might have. The dirty, sludgy I’m The Man To Be is a stark contrast to the album’s more melodic moments and remains a stop start effort that struggles to make a lasting impression, other than through the occasional burst of expletives.

Sad Case stutters along almost incoherently, saved by some interesting guitar work at the close, while the infectious Silent Ivy Hotel makes a last ditch attempt to lift the album. But, in reality, it’s based around too simple a riff to make enough of a difference.

With so many demos reaching Berninger, it’s a little disappointing that ‘Return To The Moon’ isn’t as good as perhaps it could have been. With both artists agreeing that they didn’t want to start a new band, EL VY represents little more than a vessel for accumulated works that might not find a home with their main bands.

EL VY Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Wed December 09 2015 - LONDON Electric Ballroom
Thu December 10 2015 - LONDON Electric Ballroom
Sat December 12 2015 - DUBLIN Vicar Street
Sun December 13 2015 - DUBLIN Vicar Street

Click here to compare & buy EL VY Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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