Though paradoxical it may seem, The Old Ceremony's third album, Walk on Thin Air, is both its most complex and comfortable to date. The work of a band growing into its own while trying to avoid the stalemate of strict self-definition, Walk on Thin Air unites The Old Ceremony's formerly dual predilections into a well-arranged and considered whole. At last, the excellent Beatles-bred pop outfit (see "Papers in Order" from 2006's Our One Mistake) and the quirky, cabaret-acquainted, international-jazz ensemble (see "American Romeo" from 2004's The Old Ceremony) come bound as one by experimental explorations with texture, all anchored beneath the band's sharpest set of hooks on the books.
It seems the band had a more assured base from which to build this time. Lyrically, these songs feel the most familiar and lived-in, frontman Django Haskins spinning experience into about a dozen hooks that stick like spider web. Issues of aging and the battle to keep both romanticism and exuberance alive as middle-aged status approaches (the slinking "Ready to Go," the triumphant "'Til My Voice is Gone") sit well against love-or-regret songs about making choices ("Walk on Thin Air," "By Any Other Name.") On the bouncy "Someone I Used to Know," those lyrical modes blend. "Where did the rest of our lives go?" Haskins sings, questioning an ex-lover about how and when they had the time to grow apart. "And how did you turn into someone I used to know?" It's one of the most charging, direct tunes in the band's catalog, the guitar crunching between piano chords and a driving drumbeat. But, case in point, there's a relative orchestra blooming beneath the surface, pizzicato violin skipping along a bed of guitar noise, a calliope organ pirouetting over the piano plinks. Ultimately, the track is but a microcosm for Walk on Thin Air, an instantly memorable record with plenty to discover and ponder with repeated listens.
After playing Cat's Cradle last week, The Old Ceremony plays its Raleigh CD release show Friday, Feb. 20, at The Pour House with The Jackets. Tickets for the 9 p.m. show are $6-$8.