Just days after EL VY released Return to the Moon, the collaborative project fronted by Matt Berninger and Brent Knopf graced the stage of The Independent with a warm welcome from San Francisco.
EL VY is selling out shows across the country and overseas. I think its safe to assume that the names stamped on this musical collaboration have something to do with it. EL VY is neither The National nor is it Ramona Falls (nor Menomena). However, EL VY can’t be discussed without bringing in the careers that precede both Berninger and Knopf because ultimately, the tracks on Return to the Moon flow in and out of arrangements that are distinctly their own. Rest assured, it’s in no way a thoughtless stitched together piece of work, but an altogether ambitious effort to combine experimental pop with hard-hitting alt-rock.
Return to the Moon (4AD) is certainly a stray from what you’d hear on a National album. It feels like an attempt by Berninger and Knopf to bring together elements of their distinctly different and respective genres–Knopf’s twinkling synths seem to shine light through Berninger’s looming shadows. Berninger’s vocals unavoidably hang heavy over the more vibrant tracks, but fit more naturally in the melancholia tinged songs such as “No Time to Crank the Sun,” which could almost serve as the side-b to “Heavenfaced” from Trouble Will Find Me. The self-titled single is the closest the duo come to finding a harmonious balance. The songs that feel the most familiar to me are those that opt for acoustic guitar arrangements, like “Careless,” or “It’s a Game,” stripped of Knopf’s woozy electric guitar and rays of electro-pop that you’d otherwise find in “Happiness, Missouri” and “Sleeping Light.”
It was surreal in many ways to have seen The National at San Diego’s Street Scene Festival (now extinct) as a sixteen year old kid, before I really got The National. Back then I was fascinated by the challenge presented by the overwhelming and indescribable feelings I was left with upon hearing tracks from the Virginia EP, Alligator and Boxer for the first times. Last year, they performed at The Greek Theater in Berkeley, where again, I had difficulty taking in the experience despite months to mentally prepare because the grandeur and magnitude of the Greek is stunning, but also, because of the unassumingly large effect Trouble Will Find Me had on the music world and myself. Upon realizing that Berninger would be performing as EL VY at The Independent, the smallest stage that I’ve yet to see him perform on seemed strange and unfitting after previous experiences, but I sprang at the opportunity to witness, yet again, the undeniably mesmerizing spectacle that is Matt Berninger.
All images Copyright © Julie Juarez.