Morningbell - Sincerely, Severely

Morningbell is a happy band, right? They're always smiling — at least every time I've seen them they have been. I've found that happy people are easier to be around. Life is too short to waste one's time listening to bitter windbags who constantly take themselves seriously, and musicians can be the windiest bags of all. This is a band that doesn't seem to get caught up in their art to the point of vanity and pretension. Even the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure conceit of their last album, Through the Belly of the Sea, felt more silly than indulgent. And, anyone who's been witness to the "$100 light show" that they put on at their live shows knows that a self-effacing demeanor is one of the ways that Morningbell present themselves as a band that you could proudly take home to meet your mother, even if they showed up wearing very funny hats. Now, just because they're a happy bunch of people, that doesn't mean that their songs are all about anthropomorphic lollipops and children being our future. It means that the music that they make is crafted lovingly and thoughtfully.

It's that love for music that permeates Sincerely, Severely. It's the work of a group with a healthy appreciation for quality across the commonly accepted boundaries of genre, if those boundaries still exist anymore. The production is more spacious and livelier than what I'd had in my head as the Morningbell sound, and the songs cover the rock spectrum from a standpoint of instrumentation and tone. I must admit that my first listening experience was dominated by my trying to name the musical inspiration for each track, and there's plenty of inspiration, or at least similarity, to be heard. I remember mumbling "Jane's Addiction" to my empty car when the chorus kicked in on "Marching Off to War". Over the course of the album, if it had ears my backseat might have also heard me saying, "Flaming Lips", "Marvin Gaye", "Jackson Five", "Born Ruffians" and "Tom Waits”.

Although there is no denying this album as being a product of influence, how deftly they've incorporated those influences into their own Funny Hat sound is remarkable. Whether it's West-African guitar music, anthemic modern rock, soul music of both the sexy and platonic variety, or a track that could pass as a re-imagining of the theme song to The Wire, it's very obviously Morningbell, glued together by powerful, rangy vocals and a palpable desire to keep expanding their textural palette. Get this album and enjoy it. Become one of the happy people.

Morningbell will be in session for Grand National Championships, airing February 15th, 2010.