AOTY 2023

Serpentine Prison

Matt Berninger - Serpentine Prison
Critic Score
Based on 30 reviews
2020 Ratings: #439 / 868
User Score
Based on 265 ratings
2020 Ratings: #463
Liked by 22 people
October 16, 2020 / Release Date
LP / Format
Concord / Label
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Record Collector

It’s a stunning record – from the album artwork down to the perfectly-weighted running order, nothing is out of place and nothing jars. Matt Berninger didn’t want to write a solo record. But thank god he did.

Louder Than War
It’s powerful, intimate stuff, and it feels like a man unburdening his soul in a therapy session, which is what all great music is if you delve deeply enough inside.
Berninger has always been a skilled lyricist, but on this project he zeroes in on personal relationships with much more intensity.
The Line of Best Fit

The echoes of his home band are clear, but there’s also an underlying feeling of something greater at play - the proof that he can cut it as a name as much as he can a band, and Serpentine Prison is Matt Berninger’s artistic truth and joy.


The result is something that should please fans of The National as it’s not exactly a million miles away from his main band’s output, although there is a more laid back feel to the collection as less of the limelight is shared with others.

Northern Transmissions

Stark, weirdly comforting, bruised and beautiful, ‘Serpentine Prison’ is like being given access to Berninger’s private diary where you’re allowed to view his most intimate thoughts and secrets.

The Independent
The gravity of his baritone voice is bolstered by tasteful instrumentation from a host of guest performers including Andrew Bird and Scott Devendorf.
He may have built a prison completely of his own imagination, but in many ways, Matt Berninger has never sounded so free.
Though less avidly adventurous than his band's recent outings (or his own past activities with EL VY), the music here may be stronger for it.
Loud and Quiet
It’s some of his most carefree and heartfelt work for years – that’s pretty much all we could ask for.
American Songwriter

If Berninger intended to establish an imprint beyond his day job, he certainly succeeded here. Once Serpentine Prison opens its doors, visitors will likely find it hard to leave.

As with The National, Matt’s brilliantly obtuse way with words swirls into frame frequently.
The singer takes in rich influences for a deep, intimate listen to be filed next to Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds' ‘Boatman’s Call’ and Leonard Cohen’s ‘You Want It Darker’.
Consequence of Sound

Serpentine Prison isn’t the drastic change of pace that many frontmen create when they do a project outside of their main band, but it does enough to justify itself as separate from The National’s catalog.

Beats Per Minute

Serpentine Prison shows us something we already knew: Berninger shines when the focus is on him.

Spectrum Culture
A tasteful, stately affair that, at its best, resonates with the same emotional directness and honesty that we’ve come to expect from Berninger.

For a solo debut, Serpentine Prison seems like a natural first step and a safe bet for both the artist's individual ambitions and the comfort of existing fans.

Under the Radar

Serpentine Prison is not as self-assured as his two decades-long oeuvre with The National, or even that one album he made as EL VY with Knopf. But in this season of discontent, it’s a worthy exercise in bridging seemingly disparate musical worlds, long demarcated by the color line.


Taken together, it's a sequestered, rainy Sunday type of album with flawed, world-weary vocal performances that are laid bare by such impressionistic accompaniment.


The National frontman’s solo debut unwinds the nervous energy in favor of something more laid-back. The music is gorgeous and unfussy, but his performances and lyrics feel nondescript.


Comfortably mid-paced, surprises are few however.

Slant Magazine

These songs easily fade into the background, not unlike those found on so many adult contemporary-influenced singer-songwriter albums. But while Serpentine Prison may invoke familiar accusations of dullness, it’s refreshing to hear Berninger’s disaffected songwriting style take on a more grown-up perspective.

Rolling Stone

The National frontman’s gorgeous solo debut leans into his band’s core sound while emphasizing what makes him unique.


Serpentine Prison gives the National's baritone crooner Matt Berninger a chance to shine in the spotlight, even if it doesn't push him into totally new territory.

God Is in the TV

It will especially reward patient listeners who want to wallow in the vibe of the music.  Unfortunately for me, whilst it is listenable, outside of the singles it doesn’t deliver anything all that exciting.


It's no classic and as others have suggested this release is something of a throwback to the acoustic dominated 'Cherry Tree'. I do rate this slightly higher than that EP - but that's not because Berninger has developed into a more successful purveyor of melody, nor is he a better song writer than back then (nothing on this album equals 'About Today' for a start).

No, what Matt has improved on over the years are first and foremost his lyrics, which at this stage have relaxed and blossomed into ... read more


no fucking way man


I wouldn’t be the first to comment that Taylor Swift made a better National album this year than frontman Matt Berninger himself (as did Eve Owen, for that matter), but I can’t disagree with the premise. Berninger’s long-awaited solo album ultimately can’t come close to his best moments with The National, though it’s well worth a listen for longtime fans. “Serpentine Prison” scales back from The National's more grandiose tendencies, opting for a variety ... read more


I know it's good, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.
I love Matt Berninger's voice, but there needs to be a hook or a flash of energy here and there to keep you invested for longer than 3-4 minutes. Matt feels board on this solo outing, and while I respect his foray into R&B and Blues, it simply comes across as a very well crafted collection of lullabies.


Can't say I was all that impressed or moved by this record. The meandering nature of the stagnant compositions, as well as the half-asleep vocal delivery by Berninger, made listening to Serpentine Prison a bit of a chore.


i tried liking it

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Added on: October 18, 2019