(say something about distant axis) While his bandmate Aaron Dessner was working with superstar Taylor Swift on her excellent folklore album, The National singer Matt Berninger was working on his debut solo album with the legendary Booker T Jones. Originally slated to be an album of mostly covers, instead they started working on a slate of original song ideas that Berninger had.
The title track was released as the first single back in May and lyrically works as a stream of consciousness with a fine vocal melody and horns. Those same horns punctuate “All Or Nothing” where Berninger pleads “Just tell me there are swimming holes in outer space/With train cars at the bottom”. Album opener “My Eyes are T-Shirts” is instrumentally more sparse, voice not much above a whisper singing “my eyes are t-shirts/they’re so easy to read”. On his recordings with The National, Berninger’s lyrics really standout but here they often blend into the music. Booker T adds a nice bit of organ on “One More Second”, the drums add more texture with backing vocals from Gail Ann Dorsey. The five minute length lets the band breathe.
Second single, “Distant Axis” is a more laid back affair but on “Take Me Out of Town”, Berninger allows himself to be vulnerable where he wonders where he’d be without his partner. “I’ve never been so burned out/Gonna lose it any minute/This is about how I feel right now”. There is no chorus on on “Collar of Your Shirt” but Berninger really lets his vocals become more vulnerable as the song builds, mournful violins and additional organ add to the weight. On Serpentine Prison, Matt Berninger and Booker T release a mature album that is consistently solid and frequently very good.