Amos Lee
Mission Bell


2.5
average

Review

by Monica Skoko USER (2 Reviews)
January 31st, 2011 | 27 replies | 14,582 views


Release Date: 2011 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Amos Lee's Mission Fell Short

At his best, Amos Lee perfects a blend of an irreproducible voice, full of robust soul, effortless sensuality and a tinge of folk. Think: Tracy Chapman meets Marvin Gaye with a little Sam Beam (of Iron and Wine) thrown in.

Unfortunately, on his new album Mission Bell, Amos Lee is often not at his best, and on most of the songs here he focuses on only one or two of the traits that make up his triforce of greatness, making for a rather predictable snooze. This is particularly upsetting, since Calexico had a hand in producing the album, and Amos was clearly trying for a bigger audience by recruiting the likes of Willie Nelson and Lucinda Williams, but even with all the hands in the game, Amos dropped the ball with Bell.

Mission Bell (loosely) follows the story of a man seeking absolution and redemption and in the first song, “El Camino” he leaves the one he loves trying to find himself, in order to come back a better person. Lee uses this journey and purpose as a starting point for most of the songs on Mission Bell, but there’s not a truly identifiable story arc in the album and some of the songs seem to be tossed in because the sound rather than the story matched the rest, so definitely don’t consider this a concept album by any means. This album elucidates Lee’s difficulty creating albums that are cohesive, solid works rather than parts pieced together into a makeshift whole. In thinking about his body of work, one usually thinks of his best songs, rather than any standout album, because he really doesn’t have any, and Mission Bell is no different.

This album is being pretty well received, critics lauding Lee for his “maturing” and “fuller” sound, but sadly I believe by “fuller” they mean more commercial and marketable. The best thing about Lee’s music was his way of taking just a few notes on the guitar and throwing them sparingly into a song and making it both emotionally complex and satisfying aurally. He did this famously with “Colors” a few years back, and there is nothing close to that brilliance on this recording. This is mostly because his move toward a fuller sound is moving him toward a more conventional pop sound, where sparseness of instrumentation is banned. “Windows Are Rolled Down” is the decided album single…less because it’s so good and more because the rest of the album doesn’t give it much competition. Its Guitar 101 strumming pattern is disappointingly banal and repetitive, and the simplicity doesn’t achieve any greater meaning, other than to show that Amos is hungry for more attention from the want-to-be-indie-but-I’m-really-mainstream crowd. To this end, he made sure this song was just the right blend of sweeping dramatics and uncertain hope to be a backdrop to another Grey’s Anatomy season finale montage.

This album is without a doubt more religion or faith inspired than a lot of his previous work, with titles such as…well, “Jesus.” It is odd then that what is most missing from these lackluster tracks that bleed into one another is the overwhelming element of soul that he has displayed in the past. I would tell you the shortcomings or high-points of “Clear Blue Eyes” or “Stay With Me” but after 5 or 6 listens, I can still barely tell most of the songs apart.

Now, though there aren’t any stand-out golden tracks, there are certainly solid ones. Without a doubt, the beginning five or six songs are far better than the album’s latter half. Be forewarned, this may be partially due to personal preference, since the second part gets decidedly more country-western than folky and I’m for the most part not a fan of the genre. “Flower” thankfully finds the soul lost on most of its sister tracks and works because of it. “Violin” is one that really hits the mark with just enough melancholy, and never dips into the self-pitying. His vocal gymnastics are a little more standout and the relaxed melody makes for a contemplative mood rather than a boring one. “Stay With Me” is touching and passionate enough, but doesn’t hold a light to some of his previous recorded love songs, and so I toss it forward with a mere honorable mention. “Out of the Cold” comes close to being cool, but falls shy of being gritty and raw enough to believe the anguish Amos tells of.

Mission Bell isn’t anywhere near a disaster, but it’s also nowhere close to being a great album. Whatever it is Amos Lee went off in search of at the beginning of this album, he should have kept looking for it.


user ratings (26)
Chart.
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Comments:Add a Comment 
theacademy
Staff Reviewer
January 31st 2011



28466 Comments


He did this famously with “Colors” a few years back, and there is nothing close to that brilliance on this recording.




Colors is so awesome.

Digging: Kimbra - The Golden Echo

mms540
January 31st 2011



5 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Yeah, it's a definite all-time favorite/go-to song.

Xenophanes
Emeritus
February 1st 2011



10593 Comments


cool review

Deviant.
Staff Reviewer
February 1st 2011



31095 Comments


I always find it weird when people start talking about how other critics have received the album, it should never really be a factor in your review. Like, if you're discussing your opinion (which a review essentially is) other people's thoughts should never be a part of the equation. Idk, just my thoughts

Won't surprise me if Academy is talking about BtBaM

Digging: Banks - Goddess

Aids
Contributing Reviewer
February 1st 2011



23806 Comments


yah Academy is definitely talking about BTBAM.

Monica lives!

theacademy
Staff Reviewer
February 1st 2011



28466 Comments


who is this btbam

members also liked
Thrice The Alchemy Index Vols. III & IV
Thrice The Alchemy Index Vols. I & II
Thrice Beggars
Thrice Vheissu
Alice in Chains Dirt
The White Stripes Elephant
Seether Disclaimer
Explosions In The Sky The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place


i swear... only on sputnik

cvlts
February 1st 2011



8954 Comments


jesus christ academy lol

Knott-
Emeritus
February 1st 2011



10195 Comments


Colors is so awesome.


i love u

mms540
February 1st 2011



5 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

deviant- I completely agree with you but I didn't use the other reviews in forming my own opinion of the album...I'm pointing out what a lot of people are saying about it and what I think that actually means/what I actually think about the album.

Deviant.
Staff Reviewer
February 1st 2011



31095 Comments


Oh I don't for a second think that you used other people's opinions and thoughts as a basis for your own, far from it. I was just mentioning that I found it odd that outside opinions on an album were bought into your own take on it. By no means a bad thing though =]

Pay me no mind though, I'm exhausted and need sleep. Nice work by the way

Irving
Staff Reviewer
February 1st 2011



7177 Comments


This was a really solid review. And have a formal welcome to the site from me! =D

Digging: Ty Segall - Manipulator

SeaAnemone
February 1st 2011



20049 Comments


this could use some more periods

Digging: Natural Snow Buildings - The Night Country

Iai
Emeritus
February 1st 2011



3553 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

That's disappointing to read, I really like this guy.

Knott-
Emeritus
February 1st 2011



10195 Comments


just

couldwinarabbit
February 2nd 2011



6996 Comments


Colors is so awesome.

Knott-
Emeritus
February 2nd 2011



10195 Comments


Colors is OK. Now, though there aren’t any stand-out golden tracks, there are certainly solid ones.

SeaAnemone
February 2nd 2011



20049 Comments


Well, it's pretty good in that it's just solid all-around the whole thing, but in that case, too, is the fact that it's just incoherent and the worst fans in the world are fans of colors, as can be displayed from any BTBAM thread, should you take the time to look.

couldwinarabbit
February 2nd 2011



6996 Comments


Be forewarned, this may be partially due to personal preference and I am probably in the minority here
but BTBAM fans are probably the best fans ever, I mean they get hated on a lot by people who think
Jane Doe is so much better than Color but even new BTBAM is better than Converge.

theacademy
Staff Reviewer
February 2nd 2011



28466 Comments


BTBAM fanboys are extremely funny and largely dumb, but, in my eyes, thats way more preferable to the cattle who read the musings of one or two ex-fanboys, listen to Ants of the Sky once, then troll the shit out of younger kids who really dig the music...

...usually you can tell who these tools are pretty easily because they use words like 'incoherent' to describe a stupid metalcore album

SeaAnemone
February 2nd 2011



20049 Comments


... I wasn't really referring to BTBAM or Colors with my "sentence" acad



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