[sic] Magazine

Ceremony – The L-Shaped Man

It’s easy to go overboard declaring such-and-such an album the best since X, Y or Z. In nailing your colours to the mast so readily, however, you can lose sight of objectivity. Enthuse only when deserved and try not to gush. These are essential if you wish to avoid churnalistic takeaways and glib one-liners. So, is, for example, The L-Shaped Man truly the top-drawer post-punk LP that eye-catching out-of-ten rating will tell you it is, or is it merely a good one riding the crest of a wave?

One thing that’s certain is that Ceremony, the Rohnert Park five-piece and still not the Skywave splinter band, are taking the opposite direction of many given that The L-Shaped Man is their fifth and probably best LP. With a background in hardcore and “power violence” their switch to minimal post-punk upon signing to Matador four years ago was surprising but 2012’s Zoo was an underwhelming experience. It was an album that smacked of trying on new clothes, but it shouldn’t have for this is a band named after a Joy Division track after all. Ceremony have since been on a diet though and it’s made them hungry – even on a track like “Root Of The World”, which summons every last vestige of Zoo’s punk-rock growl and pits it against guitars that drone like power tools.

There are no studio excesses here. Ceremony are no longer looking to write the perfect hook, finding instead an insistent groove that reflects their current mood and needling away at it. As a result the running order is rarely showy, reaching only for a snarl or two when absolutely required. The stand-out “Bleeder” has the cold precision of a serial killer, offering a mid-range mix of ominous drums and rumbling bass over which strangled surf-punk gradually turns the screw. “Your Life In France” is another that nags away with intensity, burrowing deep into your emotions like when you root for an underdog. In turn, the dark-hearted flow of “The Party” is anything but, conjuring She Wants Revenge-style spoken-word and huge reverb. And then there’s the spectacular single “The Separation”, its interplay of riffs and Ross Farrar’s downright miserable vocal (which in the main repeats a single line) a happy-sad anthem the like of which hasn’t been heard since Interpol’s Antics. Will that be the one-line takeaway? The L-Shaped Man is something, something Interpol’s Antics. Not if Ceremony have anything to do with it. You see, “The Separation” is so great partly because it sits amidst nuanced trudges and heavy-hearted jangle. And, by itself, the maudlin piano ballad “Hibernation” doesn’t amount to nearly so much as it does as a tender curtains-up to the album as a whole. The slightly camp doom-chorus that backs a couple of tracks would be far too much to stomach if used liberally, but, just as Farrar now knows precisely when to lash out, so too do Ceremony know when enough is enough.

In a way Ceremony have come full circle with The L-Shaped Man. Youthful anger has transitioned – perhaps through the necessary stepping stone of Zoo – to become grown-up disaffection. With a veil of jagged guitar chimes and deep basslines Ceremony appear to have finally become the band(s) they perhaps always wanted to be.

Best tracks: “Bleeder”, “The Separation”

~The L-Shaped Man is released May 18th 2015 via Matador.~