Subtle complexity has always been found in the music of Matt Berninger. Whether it be with his side project El Vy or with his work in The National, the smallest of components ring the loudest through his words, his vocals and the music itself. On his first ever solo album Serpentine Prison, he brings all of this to the table and more to come out of the other side with an extraordinary album.
The thunderous drums that mesh with the ivories on “My Eyes Are T-Shirts” could be the best marker of how the album sounds. Deep and profound without overpowering you. The arrangements here are the winner, the build of the song is also quite exemplary. The sway of instrumentation also doesn’t hurt. Berninger isn’t swinging too hard here, yet the cinematic approach of the album begins to be laid out. With “Distant Axis” there’s more depth on an already deep album. With “One More Second,” Berninger draws you in with an acoustic lead track where his vocals can soften the blow. Channeling Bowie in some ways here, the delivery is key and it works as it hits on your ears as it blossoms more and more with each note.
Though the album also has this calming nature to it. Between the lush arrangements, Berninger offers a haze of simplicity in complexly written songs. “Silver Springs (Feat. Gail Ann Dorsey)” is tender and soft with a depth that almost has no bounds. “Take Me Out of Town” opens with a stark piano that’s not out of place here, in fact it’s just at home. And “Serpentine Prison” shows off all that Berning can bring to the table in terms of songwriting and production. But of the ten tracks the favorite comes on “Collar Of Your Shirt.” The in the moment feel of the song that meshes with these arrangements between notes of the guitar is masterful. As Berninger’s vocals dance above the music, the build that comes with additional instruments creates a presence that you can’t deny while he holds your attention at every intentional turn.
Serpentine Prison is available directly from Concord/Book’s Records. It can also be purchased in all digital music stores or it can be streamed wherever you stream music.
Image Credits: Photo by Jim Sclavunos.