The time has come on this blog to ask the age-old question of “Which version is better?” And today, we’re comparing the original album cut of EL VY’s single “Return to the Moon (Political Song for Didi Bloome to Sing, with Crescendo)” to the Sirius XMU Sessions version.
EL VY is the side project of Matt Berninger of The National and Brett Knopf of Ramona Falls and Menomena. Their first studio album, titled “Return to the Moon,” came out on October 30, 2015. Towards the end of 2015, the two performed a stripped back version of leading single “Return to the Moon (Political Song for Didi Bloome to Sing, with Crescendo)” for Sirius XMU, channel 35 on Sirius XM satellite radio.
(DISCLAIMER-Because I am a pretty big National fan, this post will feature a good bit of reference to Matt Berninger’s vocal style. But, since you’re here and reading this post, I’m assuming you’ll be fine with that).
Now that we’re done with formalities, on to the FUN!
The main difference between these two versions is the instruments which lead them along.The original album version features a funky, looping guitar riff and a climbing bass line that gives the song a catchy groove. I recall Berninger saying something during the interview accompanying the Session along the lines of, “The first time I heard Brett play that guitar riff, I thought, ‘Wow, I want to hear that for the rest of my life.'”
The Sessions version, however, is much more delicate than driving. In this version, a few simple piano notes pluck out a tender, heartbreakingly soft riff that matches PERFECTLY with Berninger’s quiet, raspy vocals. The vocals, while sung softly, are placed front and centre in this version. As the notes rise and fall, the piano accompaniment grows in urgency as well.
The percussion is also absent from the Sessions version. In the original, the drums add all sorts of fun flourishes, keeping the beat straightforward and adding just the right amount of syncopation to compliment the guitar. On the Sessions version, the beat is completely reliant on the progressions of the piano.
This gives the song an even more somber, resigned quality: something as small and as basic as a few piano notes and chords mimicking a guitar is what’s holding this song together. Berninger’s voice quavers as if he doesn’t want to step too heavily on the ice crystals holding the threads of his lyrics together as he pleads, “Did you really think I could go on without you?/I’m not a genius/I imagine myself being cool in the backseat of your car.”
And speaking of vocals, the backing vocals in the original, while subtle, offer a good amount of depth to Berninger’s warble and begin to tie the chorus together as the song builds to its final lines. There’s also some nice touches of strings/keyboards that add to the song’s growing momentum. In the Sessions version, Berninger is singing this stuff alone. And, my English student heart likes to think this is symbolic of the feeling of the utter loneliness reflected in the lyrics (Especially in the chorus as Berninger begs, “Return to the moon/I’m dying/Return to the moon/Please.”)
His voice even breaks a bit (in both versions) on the “Please” part, and it gives the listener a sense that he is realistically pleading with the unnamed somebody this song is written to. This is especially noticeable he climbs higher in his vocal range with the ending request of “Don’t make me wait for you at the corner of Eden Park/Don’t make me wait for you at the Serpentine Wall.”
So is one really better than the other? Spoiler alert: I can’t quite say. Both versions have their time and place, both versions are thought-provoking without smacking you hard in the face like a Thom Yorke climate change anthem, both versions offer something different to the metaphoric and eccentric lyrics.
The original is playful, yet moving. It proves its point without getting too morose or making you want to burst into tears. The Sessions version, meanwhile, strips back that feeling of fun by simplifying the tune to a man and a piano. It’s painful, it’s basic, it’s beautiful.
To put it simply, the original is a song you can run to on crisp end-of-autumn days, you can listen to with the windows down while pondering where the one who got away actually went, a fun jam you can put on when not in the mood for the weight of The National’s “Don’t Swallow the Cap” or Ramona Falls’ “Russia.”
The Sessions version is better suited for quiet rides around your small hometown, gray skies as far as the eye can see, fragile snowflakes cloaking the back roads in a misty silver-white, as you watch another Christmas fade away and a new year dawning on your mental line of vision.
Thanks for reading and God bless.