This Day & Age - The Bell and the Hammer (Cover Artwork)

This Day & Age

The Bell and the Hammer (2006)

One Eleven / EastWest

Sometimes bands who record music just as promise-laden as it is mediocre really do evolve as quickly as those invested in them would like. This Day & Age did so, and though their time as a band was relatively brief, they did leave us with three full-lengths. The first, toothless. The second, average. The third, beautiful.

Though Always Leave the Ground, the band's sophomore effort, was leaps and bounds beyond Start Over on Monday, their initial offering, I wouldn't have guessed that the group responsible for either one of those records would leave us with The Bell and the Hammer shortly before breaking up.

The record is a subdued but relentless series of cresting sounds...delay and reverb on strums everywhere. The guitars live and die in their enormous sustain.

It also doesn't entirely wander from the hook-centric, vocal-foregrounded formula the band played at on their earlier releases. It just expands it; makes it large enough to wander into post-rock territory; plays at riffs more blues and straight-rock than anything else; and isn't shy about synthesis and mallet percussion. The lyrics work where they need to, as well.

The record is about as pastiche as you can get with this kind of music, and that's a very good thing. The mixes are busy, but each instrument plays quietly, almost self-conscious. Nothing clashes, but much melts into itself.

The record, when it does stumble, does so in cohesion. It's a long release, and it wanders at times. The last three tracks can feel superfluous. Riffs also change abruptly at times, leaving more of the previous riff to be desired and imbuing the subsequent one with an almost alienating immediacy. It seems as though the band may have been trying to stick to verse-chorus songwriting when something more organic and evolutionary might have worked better.

Or maybe that suggests, in some ways, this is still the brimming-with-potential but less-than-adventurous band that we knew from their previous two releases. If it is though, they've managed to step well outside of their own skin for a few pallid but pleasing moments.