Unless you've been living in a cave, you've heard music like this before. Wow and Flutter falls most of the way into the "sprawling, epic rock" category -- in other words, you're most likely to enjoy Better Today Then if you were the first person in line to buy Mogwai's Rock Action on the day it came out. However, Better Today Then arrives without the expectations that greeted Rock Action and other high-profile "post-rock" releases; more modest in scope and less innovative in presentation, it is nonetheless easy to enjoy.
First, a word about the packaging. Better Today Then comes in a beautifully-printed tri-fold package (two overlapping "doors" close over the inner sleeve). There's a photo printed on the light-green card stock in subtle shades of green and grey, but you can't really see it 'til you view the disc from a distance. The "doors", one of which is decorated by a sewn-in length of black thread, are sealed with a reproduced vintage postage stamp. You can probably open the disc without breaking the seal, but you won't be able to read the inner sleeve notes. It's an elegant package, and while it has little or no effect on the quality of the music it holds, it enhances the pleasure of ownership.
The music, while harboring no great surprises, fulfills the promise of its packaging. "Slow Decay" begins with orchestral clamor, then relaxes into a dirge. It proceeds forward at a mannered pace, driven along by soft vocals. There are no grand, climactic peaks; as the title suggests, energy drains from the music until it slips into silence. "Candle a Tus" is more familiar, recalling the heavy, brooding drone of Godspeed You Black Emperor (I had to mention them eventually, right?), the exotic sadness of Sigur Rós and, in some intangible way, the alien loneliness of Kid A. Building tantric-style tension with heavily processed strings, an insistent percussion rhythm and a guitar riff that seems to have been swiped from Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger", it displays admirable restraint, once again deferring a large-scale payoff.
"Porcelain" is an eleven-minute pop song: eight minutes of sedate, cello-driven build, followed by three minutes of the riotous melodic squall you've been waiting for. Wow and Flutter pull this off without flooding their sonic canvas with details, so when the peaks subside, the song slips silently into the background. This paves the way for "Confessions", a twenty-minute-plus epic sandwiched between a pair of very short songs. "Confessions" seems designed to explore the textural capabilities of the group's instruments and effects modules; it alternates between the full, rich clarity of the string section and the brittle, almost gothic urgency of the guitars. Feedback is persistent, sometimes hovering hazily in the background, at other times venturing sharp, exploratory stabs between the notes of the primary melody. Even the squeak of fingers on guitar strings, heavily reverbed, has its place in this intimate dialogue. There is no big finish, unless you count the half-concealed swell at the end of the final track.
In this sort of music, the thundering, climactic instrumental explosions are show-stopping special effects, while the quieter passages are, to extend the movie metaphor, intimate moments of characterization and plot development. On that basis, Better Today Then is the musical equivalent of an art-house film, favoring its characters and plot rather than providing a framework for a series of set pieces. As with art-house films, not everyone wants, or will be satisfied by, Wow and Flutter's approach to music; their approach, emphasizing the journey and virtually ignoring the destination, is designed for listeners who think that "getting there" is not merely half, but the majority of the fun.