What we have before going and listening to this debut from Matt Berninger (The National) and Brent Knopf (Menomena and Ramona Falls) is expectations. It’s always difficult for a group consisting of two extremely talented songwriters to release anything away from their normal modus operandi and not to have expectations. What you would assume from a collaborative effort from this duo, is for the music to root in your head and then simply grow and grow, and the lyrics to be riddled with dry humour and imagery that should by all rights create an unlistenable atmosphere, but we just find we’re endeared by it. And that’s exactly what we have with ‘Return To The Moon’.
Since first teasing us with ‘Return To The Moon’ (Political Song For Didi Bloome to Sing, with Crescendo), there has been a hype around this band. Will they be a fit for the image Berninger has created for himself? How do these two seemingly different creative types collaborate and what will the end result be? Return To The Moon (Political Song…) is an upbeat, bouncing track with, as the extended name suggests, a beautiful string crescendo and harmonics that give you the highest of elated feelings. A perfect introduction and answer to the above questions.
We were then graced with ‘I’m The Man To Be’ as the second single released. Things take a darker turn here, but not for the worst. A song telling the story of a rockstar who’s seemingly in the prime of his career though his head is in a different place. Something Berninger has said was easy to write about, though it’s worth noting this is more satirical than biographical. The use of bass and drums as the leading undertones in the track creates a sleazy r’n’b vibe, along with the masochist line “I’m peaceful cause my dicks in sunlight”, everything in this track exudes our own twisted view on what it is to be a rockstar. Entwining sound effects such as almost pandering applause and even the sound of a maid walking in while the track was being recorded in a hotel room, creates a playfully un-serious vibe.
It’s quite fitting that both tracks they decided to release to help create a more defined expectation of the band, were contrasting in their sound. This is how things carry on for the rest of the album. Each track has it’s own touch and feel, ‘Silent Ivy Hotel’ could almost be a Doors cut with it’s haunting and creeping wurlitzer organ sound. It’s clear that a lot of time has been spent on composing the tracks both lyrically and musically, this was a record created for the love of game and under no obligation.
Berninger has said that the record is a loose concept around the relationship of two people, Didi and Michael, who themselves are both named and inspired by the relationship between D. Boon and Mike Watt from the band ‘Minutemen’. D. Boons’ death/demise of Minutemen is also referenced in ‘It’s A Game’, a track which is emotive and culminates in another crescendo, which is fast becoming a strength in their composition repertoire. ‘Sleepin’ Light’, is a Strokes-esque cut with some more fine sleazy lyricism and featuring vocals from Ural Thomas, a name you probably haven’t heard but you should definitely know.
Toward the end things go from the lighter side of musical composition, most predominantly ‘Sad Case’ and into ‘Happiness, Missouri’, where they enter into more brooding territory, not quite a la The National for you diehards, that’s where closing track ‘Careless’ gets it’s flavours. Melancholic guitar and slow drum patterns lead to a track which was made to close, both the relationship that the record is loosely conceptualised around and the record itself.
Altogether this is a masterpiece of a debut from two king pins in their respective worlds. It’s everything we could’ve asked for and more, and I sincerely hope they have even more material hidden away waiting to be unleashed and they don’t wait too long to do it.
EL VY – Return To The Moon is out 30th October on 4AD Records
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