March 27, 2023


Collaborations in the music world can sometimes be a huge flop. I’m looking at you Ja Rule and Metallica.

Collaboration should be the time that multiple artists come together, tweaking their normal production practices to present a new sound with others. No recent music collaborations were really intriguing me until Oct. 30, when a duo called El Vy released Return to the Moon.

El Vy consists of two individuals – Brent Knopf, an experimental indie-rocker from Portland, who is responsible for bands like Menomena and Ramona Falls, and Matt Berninger, the intimate lead singer from alternative rock act The National, who is well-known for his unique baritone singing voice.

Berninger has made a name for himself, writing emotionally profound pieces of music with his original band. The Grammy-nominated Trouble Will Find Me (2013) can attest to that. But El Vy presents Berninger’s exclusive song delivery with a dash of pleasant absurdity, a combination of whimsical and wise. It’s refreshing to see him try a new approach with his unique vocal ability. This collaboration really takes him out of his comfort zone, or possibly into it.

I’m the Man to Be is definitely one of the unique, stand-out tracks on Return to the Moon. The album’s only explicit song is probably the most satisfying. Berninger presents himself as an unorthodox role model, mixing a cocky cadence with his humorous yet harmless banter. It is propelled by a mean guitar lick and a banging chorus.

“Beatlemania made my mother think the way she does, she always said don’t waste your life wishing everything was how it was,” Berninger croons on the third track of the album, titled Paul is Alive.

Berninger shows off his intriguing writing approach, over a spooky alt-rock ambience created by Knopf. Chalked full of haunting organ fills, and stalking guitars, it’s a theme Berninger fits right into.

The second half of the album sees a more familiar Berninger, presenting intimate themes at his own pace, over Knopf’s arrangements. Tracks like No Time to Crank the Sun and Careless are perfect examples of Berninger’s classical narrations mixing with sensitive, airy indie atmosphere.

Every track on Return to the Moon has its own aura and colour. All and all, it’s a solid indie album, a playful side project, and a collaboration that actually works. It’s far from revolutionary, but definitely enlightening. If the duo really tickles your fancy, check out their performance at the Opera House in Toronto on Nov. 17.

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