Reviews

Matt Berninger Holds Us Captive In Serpentine Prison

“Everyone’s screamin’ // I’ve been daydreamin’,” Matt Berninger softly calls, “Sorry I’m fishing, without permission // Tell her I’m missin’ in a serpentine prison.” Matt has been gloomily and masterfully preaching about division, identity and love since 2001, when alternative-rock group The National formed. Finally, after providing two singles as teasers, Matt Berninger‘s solo project has arrived, granting the signature theme of subliminal beauty and curiosity. The band has never failed to tap into our feels and cradle our thoughts, helping listeners say what’s on their minds. On this record, Matt fulfills that quest and keeps us swaying along for the ride.

The frontman from Cincinnati is no stranger to working his magic through his lyricism, painting a bigger picture and packing a bigger punch. His voice is calm and distinct, allowing the words to sink in and emerge slowly. His range can vary, (take his scream in “Murder Me Rachel” versus “I Am Easy To Find”), but Serpentine Prison’s pace is consistent and dreamy.

The album’s opening track, “My Eyes are T-Shirts,” is a delicate blazon, moving through the body, describing the speaker’s eyes, tongue, mind and presence as awakened when his significant other steps into a room. “My eyes are T-shirts, they’re so easy to read // I wear ’em for you but they’re all about me.” The beat is soft and quiet, presenting an intimacy that’s explored through different ways in the album.

“Distant Axis” and “One More Second” were the glimpses fan saw prior to the album drop. They both set us sailing smoothly. The beginning of “Distant Axis” paints the mood for a quiet, slow-burning song. Guitar chords are followed by bass accents, as well as piano keys for an element of oasis. Berninger’s lyrics reveal a union between lovers that lost their way. “I was looking up at the levels in between us // ‘Cause I was sinking through the floor,” he sings.

On the third track, “One More Second,” another story of a relationship crumbling to pieces surfaces. “Give me one more second to dry my eyes,” Berninger sings, “Give me one more day to realize // Smoke’s in our eyes or in the distance // Either way, we’re gonna miss it…when it’s gone.” Berninger’s plea for reconciliation, support and trust is astounding and strong. He knows how to articulate our racing thoughts and tough questions with complications in relationships, as all talented musicians do so well. Both tracks are gentle, intimate and riveting, which is not a classic take from The National’s traditional vibe and sound. Way to stay true, Matt, especially on a solo project!

Perhaps the greatest lyrics on the album lies in the middle of the tracklist. He has a smokey delivery on “Loved So Little,” which is about fate and choice. (“It’s only God // Or the devil when you’re in it // I’m always getting caught in the middle // It’s so hard to be loved so little.”. Meanwhile, “Silver Springs” takes a tine of the 1920s jazzy mood: slow, sultry and engaging. His duet with Gail Ann Dorsey is calming and creative. In contrast, “Oh Dearie” taps into self-identity and potential, with a beat that soothes the soul. He sings, “I’m near the bottom // Name the blues, I’ve got ‘em.”

The three closers of the album wrap everything together beautifully. Berninger’s voice is cool and collected, chiming delicate clauses in “Take Me Out Of Town,” “Collar of Your Shirt” and a composed balled at the piano “All For Nothing,” which all echo The National-y styles. The final track, “Serpentine Prison,” makes you fall in love all over again with the album as a whole. We’re thrown back to the alternative bands’ stand-outs on Trouble Will Find Me.

Featured Image: Concord Records

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