I don’t think anyone would argue that skillful musical storytelling is a critical feature of humanity’s quest for human connection. It’s also a skill set as old as human language. For Cincinnati, Ohio’s The Bell and The Hammer, writing music has been a way to piece together the patchwork of their collective experience, and Daniel and Serenity Johnson have been collaborating for the better part of two decades, weaving together spirituality, heartache, joy and the apprehension of new phases.
Sadly, making an impact, even with a confidently musical and staggeringly vivid release like The Bell and The Hammer’s The Things We Get Wrong, gets lost in the era of social media where clickbait and “buzz” rules supreme. Well, if there is any justice in the indie rock world, The Bell and the Hammer are at the cusp of their big come-up.
On their new album, The Things We Get Wrong, the Cincinnati-based, husband-and-wife duo dive deep into the reflection they see in the mirror, swimming across the landscape of college, friendships, faith, marriage, and parenting to reach a new kind of clarity. Here, The Bell and The Hammer encourage a reshaping and the forming of a tender, empathetic lens that allows listeners to amplify and celebrate the shaky steps taken along the way.
To say the band follows in a rich tradition of songwriters like Carole King or Stevie Nicks would suggest that the album doesn’t have much to lend to the modern landscape. The truth is, that The Bell and The Hammer has lots to lend with regards to conversation about modern pop-rock production. There are also unmistakeable, emo-sensible aesthetic markers here (i.e. “I Know Why People Leave, as well as the album’s title track, “The Things We Get Wrong”) that are certain to draw a specific and unshakeable comparison to many a favorite artist of that ilk.
Soft, serene keys and building percussion make up the backdrop of the gorgeous title track, where Daniel and Serenity’s vocals blend seamlessly across a bright sonic landscape. As the last song on the album, “The Things We Get Wrong” encapsulates much of what makes up the pillars of The Bell and The Hammer: polyphony in the vocal arrangements––an ode to Daniel’s love of emo––alongside meticulous instrumental arrangements that are as subtle as they are moving.
That said, this isn’t JUST an emo album by any stretch. “I Am The Wounded” jumps right out of the ’90s, with its sing-a-long crescendo and bright, sparkling melodies. Paying homage to the alternative era of Gin Blossoms and Letters to Cleo, it showcases The Bell and The Hammer’s ability to pair a sunny, upbeat musicality with deeper, darker lyrical aspects. Additionally, “Don’t Go Korrine” is sure to resonate with fans of good modern country and country-leaning indie rock songwriters like Jenny Lewis.
While I’ll admit that this album was a bit of a slow burn for me at first, the merits of its considerable efforts manifest their catchy brilliance over repeated listens. I think The Bell and the Hammer know this about themselves. The Things We Get Wrong is a lesson in patience and understanding. It’s the long exhale after holding your breath. I can confidently say now that my initial missed connection was 100 percent my fault, as this disarming album has quickly climbed to one of my favorites of any genre this year so far.
Friend Club Records releases the album on cassette on August 3, and the band also completed a successful Kickstarter campaign that will bring it to the world via vinyl sometime in the future. Order it here.
Photo by Joash Johnson