Album Review: Matt Berninger – Serpentine Prison

For the first time, indie-alternative frontman crooner Matt Berninger (of The National) has released his own solo album. Serpentine Prison was produced by the legendary Memphis multi-instrumentalist Booker T. Jones under a newly-formed Book Records label in union with Concord Records. While some of the members of The National appear as credited musicians on this album, this project is far from anything like a National release.

The album’s overall mood is mellow, Leonard Cohen vibey crooning. With dark piano riffs and drama movie like orchestral studio overtones, the album is an instant rainy day companion to lovers of Berninger’s deep grooves. The opening track’s title ‘My Eyes Are T-Shirts’ represent the poetic style that’s prevalent throughout his album.

The acoustic guitar riff on the second song ‘Distant Axis’ recalls a Colin Meloy-Decemberists vibe. ‘One More Second’ brings us back to the early National days, and gives us a slight taste of their raw sound that we all love.

“Oh dearie, don’t get near me” are the quick rhyming melodies that captures Berninger’s attention so quickly. His ability to draw you in with witty lyrics and rhymes explains much of his success with The National. His solo album may be very different than the music of the band he fronts, but the songs still bring to mind a lot of the similar moods and vibes that hooked us into The National.

Track seven ‘Take Me Out of Town’ brings to mind The National’s hit ‘Pink Moon’, with its gorgeous, driving piano chord progression. This is one of the standout tracks on the album that blends Berninger’s solo style perfectly with the original National sound. This song alone can make The National enthusiasts satisfied with this solo effort from Berninger.

As a fan who gravitates more towards the more recent electrified National albums, Serpentine Prison feels like it could have been released between their debut, self-titled release and Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers. While there is a lot of magical poetry and dark, yet uplifting melodies on this record, I am still still keeping my ear out for the next National album and am hopeful it will be more worth the wait than this solo debut.

Scott J. Herman

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