El Vy’s Return To The Moon is an odd beast; a sloping mess that occasionally flirts with greatness, but never quite feels like the sum of its parts. That said, despite the unfocussed nature of the piece, no one can fault the record for its incredible ambition, and its vast scope touches on themes as disparate as pain, longing, lust and the life of the Minutemen’s D Boon.
It’s not only the work’s thematic content that’s all over the place. Musically, the album touches on a diverse array of genres, with I’m The Man To Be combining punky guitars, icy keyboard work, and an amusingly crude set of lyrics. Paul Is Alive, by contrast, whirls its way through a pop chorus, before stumbling, dizzy, into territory El Vy’s Matt Berninger has already explored with his band the National.
Need A Friend is all crunchy bridges and refrains, but it never really works. None of the left of centre elements feel essential, or important; rather, they seem like the kind of showy choices pulled off under the pretence of seeming courageous and intelligent, without ever backing up the noise with substance.
However, its worth reiterating that even when it all begins to fall apart, Return To The Moon is never bad. Or at least, its never difficult to listen to. Its messy, and it’s silly (the line “”I scratched a ticket with the leg of a cricket/ And I got triple Jesus” is one of the most embarrassing of 2015 so far) but its fun, and there are brief moments when it genuinely impresses. Silent Ivy Hotel is a brilliant song, one that combines lusty vocals and cheesy, knowing instrumentation. It gives a brief at glimpse at what the album might have been if only Berninger and bandmate Brent Knopf had stayed truer to their intentions.
Indeed Silent Ivy Hotel is the only one of Return To The Moon’s track that really registers. The rest of the tunes fall over each other, disseminating into a heap of flawed, fruitless numbers. There are elements from each tune to be salvaged – turns of phrase, certain instrumentation – but on the whole, it’s a strange mess. It’s a shame; the very definition of an interesting failure.