Dan and Serenity Johnson, collectively known as The Bell and the Hammer, released their long incubated second album The Things We Get Wrong. The follow-up to their 2010 debut To Set Things Right benefits from a less restrictive recording schedule, greater production value, and many more years of songwriting experience.
Shortly following the completion of To Set Things Right, the couple moved to South Korea to teach English. In the meantime, they began writing songs that would eventually become The Things We Get Wrong. The band wants you to know that this is not a pandemic record. Their newest project is the culmination of twelve years of writing. It reflects the truth and experiences of their lives since 2010. For more on the history of the duo and the writing of this record, read our in-depth interview HERE.
When I hear “husband and wife folk duo,” artists like the Civil Wars and the musical Once come to mind. That style of music is enjoyable but reflect a past time and place in musical history. The Bell and the Hammer proudly wear the married singer-songwriter moniker. However, they do much more than produce emotional folk music. On The Things We Get Wrong, Dan and Serenity expand upon the sound created on their previous album. And they create a masterclass in chamber pop.
The album features acoustic guitars, drums, string arrangements, and Serenity’s magnificent clarinet. With these as a vehicle, the duo explores a wide range of styles that fit neatly inside the larger chamber-pop realm. “Don’t Go” is a modern country song replete with steel slide guitar. “I Am The Wounded” sounds like an up-tempo mid-90’s rocker. And “I Know Why People Leave” channel mid-west emo, ala American Football. It’s beautifully nostalgic and adds to the well-explored genre rather than just playing an amalgamation of greatest hits.
The orchestral moments and climactic buildups create a dynamically moving and exciting experience. And it’s all held together by Serenity Johnson’s beautiful soprano and Dan Johnson’s talent for writing a captivating pop melody.
The lyrical themes move expertly between pleasant, relatable, and introspective. For example, “A Place” is a breezy love song between husband and wife. The chorus centers on the word “nice,” which is oftentimes either benign or used as a backhanded compliment. Instead, “nice” becomes sweet and cozy. This track is followed by the haunting “When I Was A Sailor,” the lead single for this album, that tells the story of Dan’s father’s struggle with bi-polar disorder.
The final song (and subsequent last song written for the album), “The Things We Get Wrong” is an intimate confession of the writer’s journey for truth and rightness. And it contains the realization that he might not know everything after all.
“When I was 19, I read all the right things, stayed on all of my very best behavior, I went to the right school, I followed every damn rule, all while preparing for some kind of heaven.”
As a graduate of an extremely conservative Bible College, I can absolutely relate to their experiences. I was certain I knew what was right. And if I did, said, and thought all the right things, then I would be “saved.” My beliefs made me better than everyone else. And they left a whole lot of people outside of God’s grace. So, having gone through my own spiritual journey that challenged, changed, and transformed me, I am also happy to admit that I got a lot of things wrong too.
As an album twelve years in the making, The Things We Get Wrong reflect what artistic maturity can do with genuine talent. You may be moved to tears. You may be swept away at times. You will be inspired and even encouraged. And I promise you will not be bored. Follow The Bell and the Hammer on Instagram, pre-order The Things We Get Wrong on vinyl or cassette at Friend Club Records, and stream the album HERE.