First Impression: Morningbell, Album 4

On Friday, September 4th, Morningbell drops their fourth full-length album, Sincerely, Severely. To celebrate, the band is throwing a record release party at the Common Grounds in Gainesville, Florida, alongside fellow Gainesvillians Michael Claytor and His Friends. Plus, adding further sauce to the pasta, The Shoddy Beatles (a cover band featuring members of Morningbell and Maxwell Edison) will be closing the night out with a massive, sing-along explosion of Beatles love.

Of course, with school back in session, and the Florida Gators opening up their 2009 football season on Saturday, Friday night is going to be quite the conflagration in downtown Gainesville, teeming with drunken students, football fans and more drunken students. Right smack in the middle will be underground music lovers and Morningbell, both of whom are arguably as much a part of Gainesville as the University of Florida and the Gators, at this point.

It sure would be terrible if the new material sucked, right?

Well, it doesn’t. Not a bit. In fact, it’s easily Morningbell’s best album, representing a monumental leap forward in the evolution of both their sound and sensibility. Listening to it is a lot like  debating about what to put in your Netflix queue, but instead of debating between a horror, comedy, drama or western film, you’re debating between a war anthem, an El Día de los Muertos street song, a funky, ‘pimp hand friendly’ ballad or a noirish,  slow-burning stew of psychobilly bass and Spanish guitar.

That particular song, “Stay In The Garden,” has more layers than a Vidalia onion. In addition to the Spanish guitar and slowed-down stand-up bass, there are subtle strings and jazzy horns on display. The latter come courtesy of former Umoja Orchestra players Jason Prover and David Borenstein, who are so damned  good they make their trumpet and clarinet sound like living things with emotions. Underneath all this stage-stealing brass the percussion is tight and snappy, and combined with the up-and-down see-saw slide of the upright bass, it sounds like the rhythm section is asking us a question, and then responding, “oh really?” The song just has the pensive, back-and-forth mood of a murder mystery, and with Travis dropping lyrics about frankincense, gloomy moons and, I think, yes, a drunken Holy Ghost,  it’s like listening to some badass graphic novel. Just let your imagination fill in the capes and “Ka-Pows!”

The attention to detail throughout the album is exquisite, and what’s amazing is that every song on the record is a flashy hood ornament, meaning Sincerely, Severely is completely lacking on filler. Few bands could deliver such a satisfying, seven course feast of a full length on their fourth trip to Album Land. Fewer still would show a marked progression in sound, a wider embrace of different influences and a willingness to do things differently, breaking out of established comfort zones.

For example, until now, there has been little-to-no sex in the Morningbell oeuvre. Why would their be? Morningbell doesn’t make funky, sexually charged grooves for bedding down and riling up, right?

Not usually, but here we are with the title track, in which lead singer/songwriter Travis Atria aggressively makes up for lost libido time, singing in a Princely, falsetto voice, talking multiple times  ’bout “laying you down” and basically making some highly funky shit on the bedroom tip. It’s produced to the dickens, complete with flutes, horns, organs and subtle sleighbells, so, yeah, if the song  were a shirt, it would have 70’s angel sleeves and a V neck.

It’s kind of amazing, actually. In one fell swoop, their first in such a style of music, Morningbell has come up with a classic, retro slow jam that boasts both teeth (gold ones, aye) and a high grade of sexual potency. The falsetto voice  must have uncaged the beast in Travis Atria, and that’s all to the good. Whatever the case, the next time you’re crafting a mixtape for a romantic evening, put “Sincerely, Severely” at the beginning, and set the mood proper. Like the chorus, “I’ll do it right, you know I would,” there’s no question.

Speaking of questions, will you be in northern Florida this weekend? Probably not, but if fate leads you to the the Common Grounds on Friday night, you can bear witness to a talented, hard-working band at the peak of their musical career. It’s yet another fascinating shade of Morningbell, revealed in their revelatory 4th album Sincerely, Severely. The whole damn town is going to be there, so bring a camera.


Sep 4 2009 ALBUM RELEASE at the Common Grounds in Gainesville, FL
Oct 17 2009 at New World Brewery in Tampa, FL
Oct 23 2009 as Shitty Beatles and Shitty Wilco at The Common Grounds in Gainesville, FL
Nov 13 2009 at The Atlantic in Gainesville, FL
Dec 4 2009 at Common Grounds in Gainesville, FL

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– Matt Lehtola


One response to “First Impression: Morningbell, Album 4

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