Morningbell | Sincerely, Severely (Orange)

cd_morningbell.jpgThe band is at its best when it slows down, mutes the drums and turns out some sexy, smooth and seductive bossa nova/soul that wouldn’t be out of place next to Al Green or Curtis Mayfield.



We know from Picasso that good artists borrow while great artists steal. However, when an artist steals, does it not compromise his own singular voice? Sincerely, Severely, the new album by Gainesville, Fla., quartet Morningbell, gives us some idea. Sincerely, Severely stuffs a bevy of diverse styles into an indie-pop context, dabbling in flamenco, African, soul, funk and salsa, but all of these accoutrements make it difficult to hear Morningbell’s own voice.

Most of their songs fit into two categories that, for the most part, complement each other well. The first type is bouncy indie pop/rock, recently made popular by the likes of Vampire Weekend. The band gets off to a quick start with bongos and castanets on "Let’s Not Lose Our Heads," one of the best cuts on the album.

The band’s ability to craft witty, silly lyrics is immediately evident. For instance, the equation of the decline of civilization with "being seasick on board a ship that is sinking/ and crashes into another sinking ship as they burst into flames," is, in itself, both odd and funny, a lesson in overkill. But then comes the kicker: "the band don’t care./ They just play faster songs with shorter names," and the mixture of allusion, metaphor and statement of purpose come together. "Marching Off to War" can be repetitive, but the song gets some mileage from its nice summery beat, while "King Mango Strut" carries a bouncy bass and skittering guitar line.

The band is at its best, though, when it slows down, mutes the drums and turns out some sexy, smooth and seductive bossa nova/soul that wouldn’t be out of place next to Al Green or Curtis Mayfield, odd bedfellows for a foursome of white indie rockers. This style is especially supported by lead singer’s silky falsetto on songs such as "Hello, Dali" and the title track, which mixes in relaxed tropical horns. Morningbell has also done its homework on Motown, prominently displayed in name and style of "Soul Ma’am."

However, such diverse strands of pop can seem scattershot at times and the transitions are often jarring. This is especially evident on "Stay in the Garden," which is pure Tom Waits without the gravelly voice, complete with minor key guitar plucks and an interlude of a trumpet and clarinet trading eights. While not unconvincing, the song seems wildly at odds with its neighboring tracks, and it’s a big jump to the tropical flamenco of "The Blue Whale and the Fly."

The band can also get so polite and mannered as to become forgettable, as on "Pictures of the Sun" or "Dancing in the Jaws of a Lion." And "Oh, Return" shows that the band has more than a passing acquaintance with the music of another indie buzz band, Grizzly Bear.

Overall, Morningbell has a good grasp of its genre, and uses a number of styles to distinguish itself, but it can be difficult to hear where other artists’ music ends their own begins. B | Kurt Klopmeier

RIYL: Vampire Weekend, Curtis Mayfield


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