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Morningbell -- Sincerely, Severely

Since my relationship to music has primarily been one of consumer rather than producer, I probably fall too often into the trap of armchair critic. Being jaded from an age of overexposure, it's always tempting to zoom in on drawbacks rather than think more broadly about the tremendous effort any musician makes during the writing & recording process. But recently I got a fresh jolt on that perspective thanks to my good friend Chris Hillman's band Morningbell and their new record Sincerely, Severely. Having heard previous incarnations of Chris' music (Narwhal anyone?) made me appreciate how a musician's abilities can develop over time. And knowing a band member in real life better enabled me to envision the whole process from songwriting to production, thus making salient the hard work and attention to detail I saw in this record.

On the first half of the album the band quickly establishes themselves as gutsy, first-rate experimenters, showcasing a stylistic and instrumental diversity that encompasses everything from punchy guitar riffs ("Let's Not Lose Our Heads"), to smoky noir trombone ("Stay in the Garden"), to orchestral synth ("Hello, Dali"). Feeling pulled in so many directions was very fun and exciting, if at times discombobulating. But the second part of the album was where I thought the band really shined. There, Morningbell does a fantastic job of contrasting jaunty, uptempo pop songs ("The Blue Whale and The Fly", "King Mango Strut") with hazy psychedelic jams ("Oh Return", "Shoot It Down"). Really look forward to hearing more from Morningbell!

Here are a few of my favorite moments from the album:

1 Let's Not Lose Our Heads -- Handclaps! and harmonies on the final crescendo
2 Marching Off to War -- Awesome groove especially starting around 2:20, the drums here are key giving the song a propulsive yet ramshackle feel
7 The Blue Whale and the Fly -- Really liked the production, highlights each individual instrument yet hangs together very naturally
9 King Mango Strut -- Very catchy riff, especially horns
10 Picture of the Sun -- Simple and superb pop imagery + memorable chorus & bridge could make this a single candidate
12 Oh, Return -- Personal favorite, found myself absentmindedly whistling the tune hours later
13 Shoot It Down -- Dreamy, especially loved the buildup at the end.

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