Review Summary: An inconsistent, yet gloriously fun, lighthearted album deserving of a great deal more attention than has been received.
I was rather surprised at the lack of attention EL VY has been receiving. No flashy announcements, little coverage on popular music websites... surprising considering its an album from two fairly well established Indie musicians. After listening to the album a few times, I can honestly say that this lack of attention is wholeheartedly undeserved.
For those who don't know, EL VY is a collaboration between Matt Berninger of the National, and Brent Knopf of Menomena and Ramona Falls. The story goes that the two met on tour a while back, and decided to work together. Over the next few years, the two exchanged partial bits of song writing, and finally after the National took a break the two began to work and record together in earnest - and so, "Return to the Moon" was born.
I have to confess from the outset that I'm not familiar with Knopfs work, though I am a big fan of the National. Expecting something similar to the later National albums, from the moment I heard the first sharp guitar twangs of the wonderfully titled "Return to the Moon (Political Song for Didi Bloome to sing, with Crescendo)" I was pleasantly surprised. As the albums opener it stands as one of the albums best songs - presenting a laid back yet energetic collage of guitars, drums, and keyboards all tied together by Berninger's baritone and trademark vague, seemingly nonsensical lyrics ("Bought a saltwater fish from a colourblind witch/Coz she said she loved it" particularly stands out). As the album progresses we get hints of this returning style, but really the album is characterised by its immense variation in tone and style - from the twisted, bass-heavy and self-deprecating "I'm the Man to Be" to the ballads "No Time to Crank the Sun" and "Its a Game".
This variation is one of the albums greatest strengths, but also one of its greatest weaknesses. While the range of tone and styles means the album never feels boring or repetitive, it also means the album never feels like a cohesive whole - rather more like a collection of songs thrown together. The first three songs alone indicate this - the aforementioned laid back, contemplative "Return to the Moon" goes straight into the sharp, biting "I'm the Man to Be", followed by the slow, ballad-esque "Paul is Alive". Right off the bat we're sort of left thrown by this discontinuity, and unfortunately this means that the aforementioned "Its a Game", a potentially emotional, sad song, feels a bit empty seeing as how its surrounded by upbeat indie pop songs. Its unfortunate, because its a fantastic song (along with similar ballads "Paul is Alive" and "No Time to Crank the Sun"), but it just seems somehow out of place.
All that being said, I think this could be explained by thinking of this album as what it is - two friends messing around with song writing and making something fun. And in that regard, this album absolutely triumphs. No song on this album is boring, and no song sounds strained - both lyrics and music are infused with a sense of humour and fun which, considering the somber, arguably overly-serious nature of the later National albums, comes as a welcome relief. There's just something so goofily hilarious about hearing Matt Berninger saying "I'm peaceful coz my dicks in sunlight/held up by kites/Coz I'm the man to be" over a backing of female voices and soaring synthesisers. There's not really a bad song on the album, and while the inconsistency does hold the album back from being truly great, for what it is it triumphs - a fun, enjoyable, slightly goofy 11 songs. And for this alone, the album's worth a listen.
Return to the Moon (Political Song for Didi Bloome to Sing, with Crescendo)
I'm the Man to Be
No Time to Crank the Sun
Silent Ivy Hotel