Howie Day seems like a veteran after years of being on the road, but the fact that he’s still in his early 20s should bode well for him and a long career. The singer-songwriter’s last album Stop All the World Now was not exactly the smash, buzz-like hit that critics hailed like the preceding Australia album, but Day still managed to put out a quality album with some string touches. Now, this new edition features bonus material, including two acoustic versions of album tracks. And it’s Day’s confident yet fragile pop approach that sells most of these songs easily.
“Brace Yourself” is a roots-like pop tune that brings to mind a cross between Neil Finn and Canadian Hawksley Workman. It seems like perfect radio-friendly pop fodder, but Day nails the song with his vocals and the easygoing melody. “So you think you can hold the world up by a string”, he sings while strumming his acoustic guitar. Produced by Youth, the album then moves into a slight electro-ambient touch on “Perfect Time of Day”, a bouncing, galloping sort of tune that U2 might have considered on their new album. The chorus opens up and becomes almost arena rock-ish with better than expected results. Unfortunately “Collide” doesn’t bode as well, a lighter and string-y Mayer-ish ballad that takes the album’s mood down. The lyrics aren’t bad, but it is too formulaic or cookie-cutter and the London Session Orchestra seem unnecessary here.
Day’s tender moments are best when he is alone with his guitar and little added instrumentation, particularly on the dark and melancholic “Trouble in Here”, a whispery sort of song that slowly builds into a larger but non-grandiose number. The added voices and dialogue near the song’s conclusion is needless and thankfully lasts a few fleeting moments. Day takes it home with a great and sweeping wall of sound and guitar though, coming across like the best of both Travis’ and Coldplay’s worlds. “Sunday Morning Song” goes down a very different route, more of a folksy angle with some dreamy keyboards and drum brushes. This softer milieu continues on the sappy “I’ll Take You On” which sounds like Day recorded it around a campfire. The chorus falls entirely flat though, resembling a paltry John Denver effort with the inane strings. This musical malaise ceases with “She Says”, recalling the best of the Verve or solo Richard Ashcroft.
The singer-songwriter mold is oversaturated now, but Day manages to pull himself up from the rest of the fold by routinely creating fine songs and even finer atmospheres for each. A good example of this is the downtrodden “Numbness for Sound”, with more of the ambient electro touches in the intro before a rich and lush chorus engulfs the listener. It’s perhaps the album’s highlight, hitting all the right notes in exactly the right moments before turning on a dime during the bridge, getting a harder, edgier but majestic tone. The “Imagine”-like tone to “End of Our Days” has Day baring his soul behind a piano. It’s a song you hope he keeps simple but he adds drums and bass to the tune, diminishing the initial effort. The result is a syrup-y tune that would best be left relatively barren. The powerful vocals at the end are its only saving grace. The closing “Come Lay Down” has a psychedelic-cum-Middle Eastern flavor with trippy, echoed vocals and not much substance overall.
As for the bonus material, the four additional songs include “This Time Around”, a slick and rather ordinary effort that has Day going through the motions. But “Standing in the Sun” is a great track, starting off small but building step by step, note by note. Here Day is at his best and he goes hand in hand with the breezy, summer driving ditty. Two acoustic versions of the album tracks are “Brace Yourself” and “Collide”. “Brace Yourself” doesn’t veer far from the warmth of the original nor does the latter. It’s another stepping stone for this musician who seems in it for the long haul.