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EL VY (the press release states that the name rhymes with "hell pie") is a collaborative effort put together by Matt Berninger of the National, and Brent Knopf, once the mainstay behind Menomena, who is making music as Ramona Falls nowadays. With both of their bands getting ready to release new material in 2016, it would be easy and lazy to dismiss their debut album Return to the Moon with the dreaded term "side project." The term suggests something that has been hastily created in a stop-gap, which could easily be cast aside when their other act gets busy again.

On the contrary, the album was recorded over the winter of 2014-15, with the two musicians getting together to finalise the ideas they have been germinating for years, since they started swapping musical fragments and lyrics after the National and Menomena had come off a sparsely attended tour nearly a decade ago.

The best bits of Return of the Moon occur when they gel together so well that it is hard to believe that story about the songs being created over years of long distance communication. Unfortunately this unity isn't there all the time and some of the album does sound like it was assembled in post-production, with Berninger's distinctive vocals overlaid over a Menomena-style backing track.

Fans of both acts will not be disappointed though, and Berninger's lyrics are as intriguing as ever. It is odd to hear his baritone set against the sleazy downbeat funk of 'I'm the Man To Be', but his words paint a brilliantly vulgar picture of a rock star on a hotel bender, "I'll be the one in the lobby in a green coloured fuck-me shirt" is one of the more memorable lines.

Elsewhere, on the likes of 'Paul Is Alive' and 'Silent Ivy Hotel', the interesting arrangements and swell of female vocals behind Matt's voice recall the more recent records of Leonard Cohen.

The piano-led 'No Time to Crank the Sun' hints at some of The National's more emotive moments, and the catchy 'Sleepin' Light' makes good use of the contrasting soulful vocals of guest Ural Thomas.

Some of the other material is forgettable, but Matt Berninger's skill with using subtle hooks to bind the song together helps to bring some of the other tunes to life. Closing track 'Careless' gels very well as the noisier elements take a back seat and the track is centred around acoustic guitar and the intriguing line, "don't be careless with me yet, not yet."

Two of the best tracks seem to take inspiration from an unlikely source - the Minutemen - a band whose musical influence is hard to detect here. 'It's a Game' is a pretty but down-tempo song, with a great lyrical hook, as Matt intones, "I've never been so alone, til I read that the Minutemen were dead." It makes want you to listen back to the whole record and focus on the words, as it all seems to be based around an earlier part of his life. The other Minutemen reference is in the subtitle of the opening track, 'Return to the Moon (political song for Didi Bloome to sing)', though the tune itself is a slightly funky, hook-laden slice of pop with some enticingly odd lyrical twists.

If this was a new band we would be blown away by some of it, but given the pedigree of the two musicians here it is hard to separate from their other work. This isn't a fully realised collaboration just yet, as there are a few filler tracks, but there is more than enough potential to suggest that if they get time and space to create more music together, EL VY could become more of a permanent project.

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