The Old Ceremony is about vision in sound, and it's always been that way: From their earliest gigs up to their captivating sophomore album Our One Mistake, this band—no matter what members it may be sporting at a given time—has constantly carried the singular charge of taking the love-and-life ruminations of Django Haskins and turning them on. For Our One Mistake, The Old Ceremony is a remarkable light switch.
The band's self-titled debut often suffered from that support-the-song edict. Though The Old Ceremony certainly communicated the songs on a surface level, that record failed to transmit the joie de vivre and multifarious mood swings present not only in Haskins' words but also in the experienced players backing him. But Our One Mistake, ironically, avoids that folly: Recorded largely with only a small number of repeat takes and overdubs in the home studio of Ceremony vibraphonist Mark Simonsen, Mistake sounds distinctly like the product of a band comfortable with collaboration. Each of the seven musicians here stands out while standing back when the time is right. They sound confident in their merit together as a band, and both the arrangements and playing benefit. The cross-textural arrangements on "Poison Pen"—from Gabriele Pelli's whimsical violin moan to Matt Brandau's perfectly step-wise bass—catapult Haskins through one of his finest moments, a completely trustworthy source intimating diabolical things. Countdown Quartet alumnus Dan Hall, back behind the drums, seems more committed to his own interpretations here, too. With Brandau in his pocket, he affixes a mod funk to the swagger-toasting, McCartney-with-flair "Papers in Order," and his cymbal washes on the otherwise sans-drum title cut saturate the bitter, string-washed lament until it spills over. Simonsen's vibes are subtle and remarkable, filling gaps in the arrangements with warm tones, more Lionel Hampton than Gary Burton.
But, as impossible as it would be to give too much credit to the six men around Haskins, he deserves his recognition, too. Haskins is busy taking chances as a writer and vocalist on Mistake: Shirking purity, he winds his voice through a shout-down-the-hall effects patch on "Believer" and switches between Mandarin and English for "Bao Qian." More importantly, he allows his band to become the band: The noise squeal of "Prove Me Wrong" gives his love worries new meaning, and the guitar solo of "Reservations" twists and snarls and bites, its bent strings and flawed notes in contrast to the austerity that some of The Old Ceremony's obvious progenitors—Cohen, Sinatra, Newman—championed. If anything, it's a Marc Ribot-era Waits nod. Better yet, it's a whole new season for The Old Ceremony.
The Old Ceremony plays the Raleigh Music Hall on Thursday, Nov. 9 with Bombadil at 10 p.m.