ith a MySpace blog entry entitled “Morningbell in Flaming Lips top friends!!!”, there’s no real need to reference the influences and tastes of this band further. The lazy, playful tone of their third album should be plenty of an introduction, since the shoddily designed networking Mecca of the Web is perfectly capable of obscuring much of the music it showcases. Web-bound democracy has afforded an experienced but localized Florida band, among thousands of their peers, increased exposure. But the music has to speak for itself. If it doesn’t, let a book-to-LP redux and liner note explication do it. This LP’s subtitle is “A Choose Your Own Adventure Album,” which speaks either to the quirky innovations or facsimiled efforts some indie bands feel compelled attempt to gain a stronghold in a stacked genre. A car company was recently sued for using this popular book series’ trademarked format in an ad campaign; Morningbell, not so much.
To give away a bit of the plot, you won’t actually reach “Lost Again!” (track two) unless you choose to “flee” a sea monster during a “Journey to the Bottom” (track seven.) If you’re already lost, it doesn’t entirely matter, as the songs instill as sense of swirling vertiginous confusion on their own. And they feed into each other regardless of whether they’re mixed up or played in numeric order. (The crucial possession of the liner notes in telling the album’s story assumedly reminds us of the depreciating value of physical CDs.) I played the songs out of order, and would hope that Morningbell’s set lists, as they move up the coast from Florida this summer for a tour, will be dictated by audience choices. There’s no crime in adding sensational flair to live performances of mediocrity (see the Scissor Sisters’ Brit Awards performance.)
“Lost Again!” is many things to two ears, but is lastly a story set to music. It’s a noodling nod to Phish, a soaring, effects-pedalled undersea Beatles tribute, and a lyrically unsophisticated narrative that evolves into a loud, dull, but affecting guitar line. Because Morningbell’s patterns of reverberant guitar plucks, electric organs, washes of “ah”s and “ba-da ba-ba”s are so repetitive as to be monotonous, so it’s hard to respect the songs for being anything other than a focused study of a particular environment and its impact on the narrator (and, technically, reader-listener). Refer to Chapter 8, “Utopian Fantasy at the Center of the Earth,” where our writer tells us in the liner notes, “At the Center of the Earth, there is no such thing as time.” Right-o. The song is almost a winner, reviving the kind of radio-obscure but theoretically accessible, jammy mid-career moves of Modest Mouse. But the song dissolves into a tiki-lit sashay on a cruise ship, its warm strings and percussive guitar strums giving way to lilting bongos and whiny vocals traveling miles to reach us but never quite making it.
It’s a pleasure to read Morningbell’s homemade and actually quite brief liners, which give us a story instead of giving us the negligible lyrics. Predictably, a reggae tinge seeps into the guitars on tracks like “The Desert on the Sea Floor,” which by title sounds like an awesome Lovecraft-y place, but which in music doesn’t live up to our imagination. Another homely sounding Trey Anatasio tribute at the two-minute mark immediately lodges itself in a part of my brain where failed math tests and other unfortunate memories also reside, so that I’m left only with the roiling, minutely pretty segments of Belly that, over time, still sink into gimmicky silence.