I’m not sure why Matt Berninger thought it would be a good idea to dip his toes in light and funky grooves, but it certainly makes for an interesting listen. Berninger’s quaalude croon of a voice is perfect for his full time gig as The National’s frontman. It helps build an atmosphere perfect for tea sippers everywhere who enjoy the occasional underneath-the-pants reference. But on Return to the Moon by El Vy, his side project with Ramona Fall’s Brent Knopf, there are plenty of times when it seems completely out of place.
To his credit, Berninger wants to accept the innocuous nature of a lot of these songs. There are plenty of playful non-sequiturs throughout the title track, but the blend of his Droopy Dog-ness and such a plucky guitar is too ill-fitting for it to work. “I’m The Man To Be” works out better because they just double down on the creepiness all across the board. It’s the music embodiment of a patchy mustache’d adult male in an extra small beige polo. And with a line like, “I’ll be the one in the lobby in the collared ‘Fuck Me’ shirt,” and the hook to the song being “I’m peaceful ‘cuz my dick’s in sunlight,” you have to at least respect their complete disregard for me being able to sleep for the next three nights.
Songs like these, where Berninger and Knopf decide to just go for it, are the most respectable on Return To The Moon. The best example of this is “Silent Ivy Hill,” a song that sounds like they made it for a campy ‘70s Halloween cartoon where a gang of skeletons dance around in a circle. There’s a very charming chintziness to it at the very least. The freeness from both of Berninger and Knopf, given the serious tone that usually emanates from both of their usual acts, is captivating albeit poorly executed.
Similar to their experimental side, even when Berninger and Knopf go back to more familiar territory, it leads to mixed results, but without the complete commitment of the former. “Happiness, Missouri” is the tightest song on the album. Aside from “No Time To Crank The Sun,” it’s the only song that feels fully figured out. The big problem here is those moments are few and far between and they don’t seem to know what to do with themselves when they’re not completely exploring their inner weirdo. Too many songs rely on them wailing on guitar for a climax without much else. It just comes off as half-explored.
It would be fun for El Vy to continuously explore what sound they want to master. There are promising flashes, but a lot of it depends on whether or not they want to have a completely oddball side project. I personally wouldn’t hate it if they shared more genital sun-tanning tips, or go for that Halloween cartoon idea I mentioned earlier. Going the conventional route should be the last thing on their mind for this project, though. Even though there were a few bright spots because of it, if they ever decide to do this again, they need to ditch the Alt-Rock handbook and go full creep-o on all of us. Let this be the spirit of El Vy going forward.