May 28, 2015

Review: Ceremony | The L-Shaped Man

In the beginning, "Ceremony" was a song. In fact, as this reviewer is wont to say, it was the best song. At least, it is the greatest of the original post-punk era. Written in the blinking twilight of the '70s or first glimmer of the '80s by the legendary Joy Division, the tune survived the tragic and infamous death of the band's fronter Ian Curtis and was eventually recorded by New Order; it became a live set and compilation staple for the remainder of that band's long-running career (not to mention bassist Peter Hook's present-day, competing enterprise). "Ceremony" has been reverently covered by countless acts including Galaxie 500, Xiu Xiu, The Chromatics and even Radiohead. It was used in an iconic scene of Sofia Coppola’s 2006 film "Marie Antoinette" and has been extensively analyzed by critical rags including The Onion AV Club. And so "Ceremony" has become a populist anthem of sorts for a certain alternative set. Using just minimal rock elements, the song unlocks a mystical alchemy that transcends a somewhat awkward performance and elevates the recording to something epic and monumental – a magnificent Doric marble column, wearily standing in the name of both the disappointment and optimism of youth.

Since then -- and underscoring the aforementioned song's alterna-populist appeal -- Ceremony has become the name of a bunch of bands, and likely the most punk among these operates out of Rohnert Park, Calif. The outfit emerged as a "brutal" hardcore unit that released three albums and several EPs on Bridge 9 Records. It began incorporating subtle garage and indie rock influences into its sound by the time of their 2012 Matador Records debut Zoo, and its latest and fifth album The L-Shaped Man continues to cleverly subvert Ceremony's punk foundation –- likely to the chagrin of some longtime fans -– while at the same time offering a fresh leaf and the fulfillment of a prophecy. Over the course of its 11 tracks, the band explores and inhabits the intricacies of its namesake and celebrates that tune's heavy emotional and historical grandeur. The music on The L-Shaped Man also deftly integrates elements of style from acts including Section 25, The Names and Siouxsie and The Banshees), while never seeming to directly rip off specific compositional touches.

Ceremony's approach -- clean and spindly guitar notes, thick and simple bass, steady, martial drums -- is tried and true within post-punk, but the group's economical, punk chops empower it to forge a collection of uncharacteristically honest songs. Brief opener "Hibernation" holds a steady pattern of four piano notes, which create an icy, barren atmosphere from which the ensuing, uptempo numbers are launched. The tune is a bold declaration that this is not the same band of even Zoo. Fourth track "Your Life In France" is the album's first true stunner; its back-and-forth guitar lines echo New Order guitarist Bernard Sumner's beautiful six-string showcase in the middle of "Ceremony," all quick simplicity and the occasional sour note that dance around the bass guitar.

More importantly, Ceremony wisely puts its best song square in the middle of the half-hour record, creating a wonderful centerpiece that ties myriad subtle ideas together. "The Separation" weds the catchy, double-tracked guitar lines of "Your Life In France" to anthemic piano and the band's best chorus -- bringing to mind that narrow, magical window where punk first transitioned into romantic New Wave melodicism. "Can you measure it? / Can you measure the loss?," fronter Ross Farrar -- whose desperate monotone sounds very much like that of Ian Curtis -- pleads again and again as the slow-burning intensity of the instruments figuratively huddle around him. Perhaps some credit should go to John Reis (of Drive Like Jehu, Rocket from the Crypt and Hot Snakes), whose production lends the collection a very present, live and upfront feel, in part through emphasis on the rougher edges of the vocals, which reveal the album as something a little more lived in. The L-Shaped Man arrived last week on CD, seafoam green vinyl and as a digital download courtesy of Matador, and you can order the striking set right here. Ceremony will be on the road for much of the summer, and the tour dates as we presently understand them are listed below the unnecessarily long Spotify embed below. -- Edward Charlton

Ceremony: Facebook | Internerds

06.12 -- Cellar Door -- Visalia, CA
06.13 -- Legend Records -- San Diego, CA
06.14 -- The Rebel Lounge -- Phoenix, AZ
06.15 -- Club Congress -- Tucson, AZ
06.16 -- Tricky Falls -- El Paso, TX
06.17 -- Red 7 -- Austin, TX
06.18 -- Sons of Hermann -- Dallas, TX
06.19 -- Walters -- Houston, TX
06.20 -- One Eyed Jacks -- New Orleans, LA
06.21 -- The Atlantic -- Gainsville, FL
06.22 -- Epic Problem -- Tampa, FL
06.23 -- The Social -- Orlando, FL
06.24 -- Drunken Unicorn -- Atlanta, GA
06.25 -- Kings -- Raleigh, NC
06.26 -- Rock & Roll Hotel -- Washington, D.C.
06.27 -- Union Transfer -- Philadelphia, PA
06.28 -- Cuisine en Locale -- Somerville, MA
06.29 -- The Space -- Hamden, CT
07.01 -- Bowery Ballroom -- New York, NY
07.03 -- La Sala Rossa -- Montreal QC, Canada
07.04 -- The Garrison -- Toronto ON, Canada
07.05 -- Mohawk Place -- Buffalo, NY
07.06 -- Now That's Class -- Cleveland, OH
07.07 -- Marble -- Detroit, MI
07.08 -- Lincoln Hall -- Chicago, IL
07.09 -- The Frequency -- Madison, WI
07.10 -- 7th Street Entry -- Minneapolis, MN
07.11 -- Sweatshop Gallery -- Omaha, NE
07.12 -- Moon Room -- Denver, CO
07.13 -- Kilby Court -- Salt Lake City, UT
07.14 -- The Shredder -- Boise, ID
07.15 -- Neumo's -- Seattle, WA
07.16 -- Analog Café -- Portland, OR
08.08 -- Visions Festival -- London, UK

No comments: