Review: EL VY – Return to the Moon

Side-projects are best experienced with an open mind, with little-to-no expectations based on the previous work of its members.  They are often useful for musicians, in that they provide an outlet for previously unused musical ideas or allow them to express different aspects of their personalities, but they can prove disappointing to the audience when the work does not match the quality of previous results.  So while it may be initially tempting to have high hopes for a collaboration between members of The National and Menomena, two of the best bands in indie rock from the past decade, it is probably in the listener’s best interests to approach their work with caution.

Then again, EL VY’s Return to the Moon is a thoroughly enjoyable lark, and fans of the other bands of Brent Knopf and Matt Berninger should find plenty to love with this project.

In many ways, Return to the Moon is a side-project that lives up to the expectations of a supergroup, since in many ways it does sound like a more experimental Menomena record with guest vocals from The National.  Knopf brings the cut-and-paste approach of his former group, offering up hundreds of quick musical ideas over the album’s eleven tracks; careful listeners may be able to pick out variations of the piano riff and acoustic guitar chords from “Wet and Rusting” sprinkled into a couple of tracks.  The music generally sticks to that intimate indie rock style, but there are quick forays into funk and other left-field genres that keeps the listener guessing.

Berninger seems to relish the chance to step outside the seriousness of his regular gig, and reveals a more playful part of his personality.  This is most apparent in the playful and profane “I’m the Man to Be”, which includes a line in the chorus about his “person”.  For the most part, Berninger is content to deliver his vocals with that trademark soothing baritone, which fits in nicely with Knopf’s compositions.

The album tends to lose momentum as it progresses, though the blend of the harder-hitting “Sad Case” and “Happiness, Missouri” is a highlight of the second half.  However, the opening title track is one of the catchiest singles of the year, and had me humming along for the past few weeks, and there are several other pleasant songs that are nearly its equal.


Over the Weekend (Oct. 5 Edition)

News, new music, and other fun stuff to help kickoff your week…

We linked to multiple articles about Radiohead’s Kid A on Friday, so naturally we have another piece related to the band today.  Diffuser has a slideshow attempting to come up with a suitable American version of Radiohead, and to their credit, they think outside the box of “a few dudes with guitars”, though we are sure their choices would cause some amount of debate.

Bloc Party is set to release a new album entitled Hymns next year, and today they released the first track from the record.  Since Four, the band has shuffled their lineup a bit, including adding Justin Harris of Menomena to the group, and the electronic-influenced “The Love Within” is our first glimpse at the result.

Run The Jewels released a new single this week, sharing the gritty track “Rubble Kings Theme (Dynamite)” from the documentary Rubble Kings.

The title for Best Example of Clickbait from last week was the announcement that scientists have determined Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” as the most iconic song of all time.  Certainly there is more to the story, but feel free to argue among yourselves as to whether or not the result makes sense.

There are a couple of great interviews that we recommend for your perusal this week.  First, Alan Sparhawk of Low talks to The Quietus about the band’s career in a serious and insightful discussion, and then you can lighten things up with the always entertaining Jesse Hughes from Eagles of Death Metal, who opens up to Consequence of Sound about his various personal contradictions.

We linked to a couple of clips of this show a couple of weeks back, but now feel free to rock out to the full concert footage of the supergroup performance of The Stooges’s iconic album Raw Power, featuring Mark Arm, Mike McCready, Duff McKagan, and Barrett Martin performing on the rooftop of Pike Place Market.

Finally, we recommend you check out this Tiny Desk Concert from our newest favorite Greek musician, Lianne LaHavas, who possesses a gorgeous voice that should help brighten up your week.

Over the Weekend (Sept. 14 Edition)

New music, videos, and other news to help you kick off the week…

This week we have quite a few videos to share, and not much else, so it should be pretty easy for our readers to have fun while expending a minimum of effort.  First, we recommend that fans of The Black Keys take a look at The Arcs, the latest side-project from Dan Auerbach.  The new group recently released their album Yours, Dreamily… and last week put out a psychedelic video for their song “Outta My Mind”, which recalls the recent work of Dan’s main gig, if a little more playful in tone.

Speaking of side-projects, Matt Berninger (frontman of The National) and Brent Knopf (Ramona Falls, formerly of Menomena) have joined forces to record as EL VY, and the results they have shared so far are interesting to say the least.  Their album Return to the Moon is not set to be released until October 30, but for now enjoy Matt having some fun in SoCal with the slinky “I’m The Man To Be”.

Albert Hammond, Jr. of The Strokes is promoting his third solo album, Momentary Masters, and for the video of “Caught By My Shadow” he pays a bit of homage to The Seventh Seal with his chess battle with death.  However, viewers are unlikely to confuse it with the Bergman classic, considering Hammond’s version involves way more special effects.

If you are still in the mood for something strange, be sure to watch Viet Cong’s latest video from their self-titled debut, “Bunker Buster”, which features some bizarre visuals and a sci-fi storyline.

The premiere of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert was the biggest news in entertainment last week, and among the memorable moments from the show’s first week was this amazing performance by Kendrick Lamar of a medley of songs from To Pimp a Butterfly.  Be sure also to tune in on Tuesday night, when Run the Jewels are set to perform with TV on the Radio.

Apparently The Decemberists were even more productive during their hiatus, as in addition to this year’s What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World, the band is set to release the EP Florasongs on October 9.  The band gives a taste of what to expect with the song “Why Would I Now?”

And finally, if you are looking for something to satisfy your desire for lists, you might check SPIN’s look back to 1995 with their list of “The 95 Best Alternative Rock Songs of 1995”.

Catching Up On The Week (May 8 Edition)

Some #longreads as you make plans for Mother’s Day

In case you were unaware, Mother’s Day is this Sunday, so let this be a reminder to make plans if you have not done so already.  Over the years, there have been plenty of tributes to Dear Mama, though few of them are truly memorable.  The AV Club takes a closer look at an overlooked effort from Menomena, examining the backstory from their album Moms and one of its most personal tracks, “Baton”.

The biggest release of the week was My Morning Jacket’s latest album, The Waterfall.  While we work on our own review of the record, we recommend that you read this Stereogum essay to help provide some perspective, as it analyzes the album not only within the My Morning Jacket discography but in context of trends of the past decade in rock as a whole.

This week’s most entertaining piece was the oral history of the immortal Redman episode of Cribs, courtesy of Thrillist.  Yes, Redman actually lived in that tiny apartment.

Rolling Stone interviewed Dennis Lyxzén to get the story of how after their successful reunion tour that the time was finally right for Refused to record a follow-up to their classic The Shape of Punk to Come, and what to expect from Freedom.

Trunkworthy published an ode to one of our favorite Wilco albums, the underappreciated Summerteeth.  To this day, it is still one of my favorite records, and hopefully when Wilco stops by later this summer they play more than a few cuts from it.

Menomena, Live at the Wonder Ballroom

Most of the attention around Project Pabst was focused on the shows happening down on the South Waterfront of Portland on Saturday and Sunday, but the festivities actually began with a few select shows around town on Friday night.  Even though it would mean I would be making the trip up I-5 on three straight days, I jumped at the chance to see one of my local favorites play the Wonder Ballroom.  I’ve been a fan of the “experimental” indie rock of Menomena for years, ever since I caught them opening up for Modest Mouse about a decade ago (and in a nice bit of symmetry, Modest Mouse would be headlining the final night of Project Pabst), and have been consistently impressed with their albums and their live show, and Friday was no exception.

Fans who have followed the band over their career are well aware that the original trio has now become a duo, at least in the recording studio.  For the live show, Justin Harris and Danny Seim don’t do as much instrument-switching as they did in the past, with Danny finding a comfortable place behind the drumkit and Justin switching between bass and bari sax, with the occasional guitar thrown in, but sharing vocal duties.  To fill things out, they’re aided by various touring musicians, and for this tour they had help from a pair of them to cover additional keyboard and guitar lines, and with their help all bases were covered and the songs sounded fantastic.

Justin and Danny are setting up for the show.

Justin and Danny are setting up for the show.

The set was a mix of favorites from Friend and Foe on, though “Strongest Man In the World” from their debut I Am The Fun Blame Monster kicked off the show (aside: that title is an anagram for “The First Menomena Album”, a fitting coincidence since the last band we saw was Interpol who just released their own anagramed album, El Pintor).  The guys were loose, enjoying the hometown atmosphere and having fun with the title sponsor–Justin was hoping that anytime he said “Pabst Blue Ribbon” he could get a “cool hundy”, though he would settle for $33.33 for saying any part of the name, while Danny changed up the lyric in “Five Little Rooms” on the fly to “at half-Pabst again”.  Speaking of Danny, over the past decade he has become one of the greatest drummers in indie rock, and it’s always a marvel to watch him capture all the tricky rhythms that comes from a result of their unique songwriting process while also maintaining perfect time.  He alone is worth the price of admission.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one hoping to hear a glimpse of a follow-up to the fantastic Moms, but there were no new songs on the agenda last night.  Instead, the audience had to be pleased to watch highlights like “Muscle’n Flo” and “TAOS” nailed with pinpoint precision.  The crowd was captivated as Justin alternated between different instruments and weaving in loops with his feet all the while.  Personally, I always enjoy it when a band utilizes a bari sax, and with Menomena, it’s an integral part of their sound and not a mere gimmick (though I have to say, those bros behind me who kept yelling “TUUUBA” every time they saw the bari sax, you’re exactly as clever as you think you are).

Justin and Danny exploding in light

Justin and Danny exploding in light

The night ended with a fantastic encore, with the epic rocker “The Pelican” thrilling the crowd, followed unexpectedly by the subdued track “Rotten Hell”.  However, the guys tweaked the song a bit from its recording version, with the changes providing the finale with enough of a kick to properly send the crowd off into the night with the right amount of energy to keep raging for the rest of the weekend.  It was as perfect a kickoff for a festival that Portland could ask for.