How many musicians does a supergroup make? Outside of the hip-hop and EDM worlds, there haven’t been many notable superduos. With the release of their debut album Return To The Moon, El Vy are the latest members of notable groups to form together to create a cohesive musical voice. The duo features Matt Berninger, best known as the baritoned leader of The National, and Brent Knopf, formerly of Menomena. Like Broken Bells before them, the album plays out like a studio project, but a major release on 4AD and extended tour dates prove that the pair are taking the project as seriously as their main projects.
What exists on Return To The Moon is a sense of playfulness that’s absent from The National, and even Knopf’s most recent work in Ramona Falls. This shouldn’t be taken as a slight at either of those projects, as both have written some of the best somber/urgent rock songs of the past decade. There are moments where Berninger pulls the listener in close, and then leads in a completely different, almost humorous direction. On “Paul Is Alive”, he spins a yarn about his mother’s musical heritage and relates it to his own upbringing – “Beatlemania made my mother think the way she does, she always said don’t spend your life wishing everying was how it was.”. Later, he sits outside of a club listening to Husker Du. The whole thing feels a lot more optimistic than any of his work with the National, and the mood is certainly lifted by Knopf’s keyboard flourishes and other production techniques.
On Knopf’s production: most instruments are very dry and intimate, and it’s clear that a lot of thought went into crafting each individual sound. Songs like “I’m The Man To Be” and “Sad Case” evoke Spoon at times, with their blown-out guitars and snappy dub-influenced percussion. Berninger adopts the appropriate amount of swagger to match Knopf’s palette when necessary, and dials it back to National territory when it’s not. The album’s opening/title track is likely the best example of Knopf’s contribution to El Vy – a straightforward dance-rock song with keyboards floating above. Piano-centric ballads like “No Time To Crank The Sun” would fit in seamlessly aside any of the slower tracks from High Violet or Trouble Will Find Me, but it’s Knopf’s studio trickery that makes this undeniably the work of a different group. Return To The Moon succeeds in creating a new group while retaining the voices of its co-conspirators.
Review by Evan McDowell