Sometimes you find a gem at the bottom of a dung heap, a rare find at the county landfill, a winning lottery ticket in the depths of an outhouse.
Such was the feeling of exhilaration I had as I popped Morningbell’s fourth album, Sincerely, Severely, into the CD carousel of my home stereo, punched play, and listened as the opening guitar riff of “Let’s Not Lose Our Heads” began spilling out of my speakers. Guitar and bass bop along and then Travis Atria begins to sing and my head pops open like a jack-in-the-box, grinning maniacally, uncontrollably.
Seriously, the effect of this album on my head was positive and positively moving and grooving. I will try to resist hippie, trippy metaphors from here on out. Promise.
Brothers Travis and Eric Atria formed the embryo of this band at University of Miami, got sick of the South Florida music scene, and moved to Gainesville in 2003, where they have flourished since. The current lineup is the brothers Atria: Stacie Atria on keyboards and Chris Hillman on drums (their sixth drummer, according to the Wikipedia article I just read). At some point along the way they all decided on the name Morningbell for the band after discovering they all liked Radiohead (the song “Morning Bell” is a title from Kid A).
The music is strong on rhythm and melody, with the Atria brothers’ vocals soaring and keening over a tight bass-and-drums beat, with scratchy guitars and synth fills. You think Talking Heads or Modest Mouse, but even more pleasing vocals. Standout tracks are the aforementioned opening song, but also the Tom Waits-influenced “Stay in the Garden,” which shares with the first number a reference to Eden, “The Blue Whale and the Fly,” drenched in a Curtis Mayfield/Shuggie Otis soul vibe, the title track, and the beautiful “Pictures of the Sun.”
Their versatility is really on display on this, their longest album yet. They also supposedly give a great live show, wearing suits made of Christmas lights and boasting the “$100 light show.” Next time you’re in Gainesville, check them out.