The follow-up to the Midwestern troubadour's two-part Pittsburgh project, Mission Bell sees William Fitzsimmons delivering another elegant and intimate, sad trombone of a record that makes a meal out of the picked-over carcass of heartbreak. Divorce has been a connecting theme throughout the Illinois-based singer/songwriter's career, with 2006's Goodnight putting the magnifying glass to his parents' separation and 2008's The Sparrow and the Crow focusing on his own annulment. Mission Bell chronicles the dissolution of his second marriage, and like its predecessors, it parses through the wreckage with both spleen and grace, unearthing nuggets of wisdom and pushing forward with the measured gait of someone who's trudged through this particular battlefield before. The same can be said of the music as well; an evocative blend of confessional chamber pop and gently finger-picked and electronics-kissed indie folk that's lent extra warmth by its creator's hushed, Sufjan Stevens-esque vocals. It's also Fitzsimmons first analog recording, and the natural 2" tape compression adds considerable presence to some of the more intricately arranged (and standout) tracks like "Angela," "Distant Lovers," and "Second Hand Smoke," the latter of which gives off a sort of Romantica-era Luna vibe. While the production value is top-notch, it's hard not to feel like Fitzsimmons is treading water narratively (when your wheelhouse is built on a foundation of failed relationships, perhaps it's time to start looking for new real estate). Mission Bell hits all of the right notes, especially if you're going through or have gone through something similar, and Fitzsimmons' songs are as easy to digest as they are brutally intimate, but it's getting difficult to tell whether or not these myriad deep dives into heartache are helping or hindering his growth as a songwriter.
AllMusic Review by James Christopher Monger