REVIEW: Atria — Moonbrain (LP)
Travis Atria’s Moonbrain is a ten-song collection and his solo debut. Atria is not a novice, however, by any stretch of the imagination. His nine years in the popular and critically acclaimed indie band Morningbell; they released six albums before taking a break when bandmates, his brother and sister-in-law, started a family. It ended a successful run for the band, but Moonbrain proves he is far from finished as a creative force. The end of Morningbell, while lamentable, has seemingly freed him creatively; the ten tracks included on this release are bursting with genuine lyrically and, particularly, musical imagination.
It kicks off with the title track. Salvos of blistering electric guitar crash through the speakers before the track transforms itself and settles into a Curtis Mayfield inspired groove. I think it is a notable characteristic of Atria’s songwriting skill that he so ably integrates his influences and “message” into creative yet recognizable pop structures. “Jazz Cigarette” is another example of this confluence.
I am deeply impressed Atria can tackle such a thorny and potentially heavy-handed subject such as climate change with the aplomb he demonstrates during this recording. The songwriting boasts a lean economy of both music and words that pushes any notion of self-indulgence far away and, though the lyric is brief, it tackles its subject matter in a different manner than other tracks covering the same ground. The backing vocals, as they are elsewhere, are especially effective and Jason Prover’s trumpet playing trades off lines with Doug Fischer’s trombone.
The sensitive percussive pulse opening “In the Fullness of Time” segues into tasty guitar work. I believe the effects applied to Atria’s vocal are needless, but it’s an affectation that never mars the track. Just meaningless tinsel. The laidback demeanor of the arrangement belies the ultimate impact it makes upon listeners. I love the near-shuffle drumming for the cut “Lucky” and the judicious use of keyboards during the track is another strength. The highlight, for me, is how the production incorporates Atria’s vocal so well with his supporting singers. “Suite: What’s the World Coming To/143”, the album’s penultimate cut, successfully combines two complimentary mini-tracks into a coherent whole. Aaron Colverson’s violin makes important contributions yet again and baritone saxophone courtesy of David Borenstein underlines the inherent quality of this performance.
“Make Time” lulls you into bliss without exerting much apparent effort. Colverson is, once again, an enormous part of the track’s success, but Sam Moss and Audrey Campbell’s backing vocals deliver important contributions to the album’s final track. I am quite taken with Atria’s Moonbrain and how complete it is — I believe the incubation period for this collection was likely long, but it paid off for Travis Atria. He accomplishes his avowed goal of writing and recording an album that has eternal musical virtues as well as speaking about the world today. It’s a noble ambition that Atria had for this release and illustrates his talents for anyone interested in appreciating his skill. Moonbrain, in my opinion, is one of 2021’s finest releases.