Release Date: May 19, 2015
Record label: Matador
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Punk Revival
The break-up album has become almost a rite of passage for the modern musical artist, and it’s one that doubles the impact of the work. The songwriter gets to find an expression for all the internal agony and grief he/she is feeling, and the resulting album will often be the one that resonates most deeply with the listener. Because unless you got extremely lucky in your choice of partner, you’re going to find something to relate to in the emotions vented out on this LP.
A brooding, post-punk affair full of dark-hued melodies and austere arrangements, L-Shaped Man is the fifth LP by Bay Area group Ceremony. Their initially firm stance as deliverers of classic American hardcore punk began to soften around the time they signed with veteran indie Matador Records to release 2012's Zoo. While still laced with punk ethos and attitude, Zoo felt like a turning point for the band as their tempos slowed down a bit and their songs became more tuneful, having more in common with L.A.
Bay Area quintet Ceremony began making noisy post-hardcore that often tipped into power violence back when they first began in 2004. They had a dedicated fanbase who knew exactly what to expect from them, and what they expected Ceremony provided in excellent form. That was until the last time the band released a full-length LP - 2012’s Zoo - which saw them settle in at Matador and embark on a stylistic shift which raised a few eyebrows, to put it lightly.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. If nothing else, no one will be able to accuse Bay Area-quintet Ceremony of stagnation in 2015. After developing a reputation as masters of a ferocious form of post-hardcore and power violence on their first three records, they transitioned to a slightly more mainstream form of punk on 2012's Zoo. Now, in an interesting turn of events, Ceremony, who takes its name from the title of a song penned by Joy Division, appears to have tried their hand at taking that shtick one step further on their latest album, The L-Shaped Man.
At its outset, Ceremony made its bones as an intense throwback to early American hardcore. But by its 2012 Matador debut Zoo, the East Bay outfit had largely outgrown its thrashy pedigree, opting for a more nuanced sound in step with Public Image Ltd and Wire. On its latest effort, The L-Shaped Man, the band more or less makes a clean break from its ferocious musical origins.
Following in the footsteps of acts like Interpol and Editors, the latest band to mine the dour moods of Joy Division is a group of reformed hardcore-punk squawkers. Unfortunately, the latest LP by Ceremony — who dabbled successfully in Strokes-style rock on 2012's excellent Zoo — is stifled by too much restraint. With the exception of the spirited, post-hardcore rager "Root of the World," The L-Shaped Man falls flat in its Ian Curtis worship from its piano-ornamented intro, "Hibernation" (sleep-inducing indeed), to its bummer end cut, "The Understanding." Most ominous is the record's final lyric, "Baby, say that it's over." Please.
Hardcore is a genre that revels in certain clichés—the ultimate of which is making a record that renounces your ties to hardcore. Despite its commonality, it’s still a risky maneuver: perhaps playing in such a stylistic straitjacket has made a band incapable of doing anything else. Even if it’s an artistically successful record, it can alienate old fans without attracting new ones.
Ceremony doesn’t give a fuck what anyone thinks it should sound like. Over the course of its four full-length albums, the band has routinely smashed expectations. Starting as a powerviolence band, then slowly working its way back through hardcore’s history, it’s as if Ceremony progressed through historically regressing. On 2012’s Zoo, the band was at a crossroads, with one foot still in hardcore and the other attempting to embrace the Joy Division influences that its name always implied.
Rohnert Park, Ceremony's 2010 third album, opens with vocalist Ross Farrar's strained, angry whinging about being "sick": sick of living in America, sick of having fun, sick of you-name-it. But when he said he was "sick of hardcore," man, he must have meant it. Ceremony's latest totally strips away any lingering hardcore/powerviolence/fun influences and replaces them with super-minimalist Joy Division worship.