Album Review: Serpentine Prison by Matt Berninger

Matt Berninger is a singer and songwriter from Ohio. While this is his first solo project, he is probably most known as being the frontman of the indie rock band, The National. He has released a few solo tracks under his name in the past, but he didn’t really focus on his own music until 2020, and then he was able to come out with his first studio album, Serpentine Prison.

The first track from the album is My Eyes Are T-Shirts. The track opens up quietly with just a piano and a quiet percussive beat in the background. There are some other instrumentals that are added as the track goes on, but it mostly keeps its same instruments as the track goes on. It’s also the shortest track on the album, the only track that is under three minutes in length. The tracks ends with him repeating the line, “please come back, baby, make me feel better.”

Distant Axis was one of the teaser tracks for this album, and I actually enjoyed this one quite a bit. It does just have a pretty simplistic guitar part that opens up the track, but what I really enjoy is Matt’s vocals on this track. The vocals just seem so easy for him, but it also seems so playful during the chorus when he says ‘if only you.’ You also have the powerful instrumental break for the last minute of the track. Matt describes this track as a falling out with someone or something that you thought would always be there.

One More Second was another single for this album and it is easily my favorite track from this album. The chord changes just make me feel some sort of way that gets me stuck in some trance state of mind. Another good thing is that it is the longest track on the album, and it clocks in a little under five and a half minutes in length. The weird thing about this song is that it is supposed to be one of those desperate love songs, but it just sounds perfect the way he sings on this one. He talks about trying to win this person back, but she has clearly moved on from him.

Loved So Little definitely takes a different approach. It opens up with some high pitched notes that might be some type of synth. After that, you just get the guitar playing repeated octaves back and forth. It just always has this mysterious and ominous vibe to it. It just adds to it with the harmonica and drums part that comes in about halfway through. There’s a few ideas that pop in my mind when listening to this. It sounds like it could reference a friend that is battling addiction and that he feels so underappreciated when he’s trying to help this person. It could also just be a reference to an abusive or manipulative relationship.

Silver Springs is such a beautiful track with the perfectly tuned and reverbed guitar part that opens up the track. This track is supposed to take place in Silver Springs, Florida at the state park. Gail Ann Dorsey is also a nice addition to this track and album. Since it is a popular tourist attraction in Florida, it seems like they are mentioning some incidents that have happened there. They talk about how people will never understand you at Silver Springs.

Oh Dearie opens up with a stereotypical guitar part that sounds pretty familiar. It kind of reminds me of some old classic rock licks, which might be why it sounds oddly familiar. While the track is pretty simple with the guitar parts and piano parts, the lyrics sound pretty poetic in nature, especially since they’re pretty short, but have quite the impact. Since he talks about paralysis, this could mean sleep paralysis, but it could also have a different meaning if we dive deeper into the lyrics.

Take Me Out of Town opens up with a playful piano part. Oddly, this track also has some familiar notes that seem reminiscent of some older tunes. There are some folk and country elements to this track which add some volume to this. We also eventually get some horn instruments towards the halfway mark to spice up this piece a bit. According to the chorus of the track, it sounds like he just wants to be and spend time with this person, no matter where she wants to go.

Collar Of Your Shirt is another track on the album that is just over five minutes in length. It opens up with a similar guitar part to Oh Dearie but this seems more stripped back. It doesn’t seem like this track has any form since you don’t have a main focused chorus on here. The more disconnected form continues when the string instrument joins him for his last verse. It also seems like he is throwing more emotion into his vocals on the last half of the track.

All For Nothing definitely has a light feeling and also throws some high notes in there to open up the track. There’s definitely some more playfulness added into this track, but also has a sad and depressing side to it. While it is a quick three minute track, it seems like he’s talking about how everything happens or everything he does doesn’t have a purpose or anything. He talks about how he’s stuck in quicksand during the first verse and as the track goes in, he talks about how everything is at a low point and at the bottom.

The final track from the album is the title track, Serpentine Prison. This was also one of the first promotional singles for the album. While I didn’t hear this track for some time, it did get me excited for some of Matt’s solo music. While it wasn’t a new The National album, it does have elements from the band’s music. However, it just seems like this takes on a new direction than what he does with the main band’s music.

Overall Rating: 7/10

Favorite Tracks: Distant Axis, One More Second, Loved So Little, Silver Springs

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