A few months into the support cycle behind their Matador debut Zoo, hardcore thrashers-turned-post-punks CEREMONY found themselves serving as openers for Aughts era buzz kings Bloc Party. It was kind of weird since – barring that one tour with AFI – the Bay Area band had kept their DIY / basement scene cred intact despite jumping in bed with larger indie labels along the way, but there they were playing chain venues with a band whose sound screamed easy access commercial interests. While Zoo had its fair share of circle pit-inducing moments, it by no means came close to the intensity of CEREMONY’s early catalog, polarizing its fan base between listeners who began convicting them of becoming “hipster hardcore,” and those willing to stick around with the quintet on their strange journey. Swerves are right up my alley, so it’s no surprise that it was my favorite album of 2012.
Ever since their 2010 breakthrough Rohnert Park, jarring left-turns from CEREMONY are something they do well without fear or repercussion, and a reason as to why I think they’re one of the best punk bands out there right now. In May, they’ll be releasing The L-Shaped Man, which its press release builds up as being a relationship breakup album, and I’m so very sold on that concept for one huge reason: I’m sick of today’s modern post-punk scene being a cluster of bands vying for the title of world’s bleakest with all of their paint-by-numbers lyrical mopings and non-descript dystopia. CEREMONY certainly aren’t out there as shining rainbows, but lead singer Ross Farrar has always had a knack for etching his art straight from the human skull. Could this very well be CEREMONY at their most naked and – dare I say – relative to a widescreen audience?
The L-Shape Man’s first two previews “The Separation” and “The Understanding” are packaged together as a video directed by Ross Thomas, and together, they are reflective of the Yin Yang that are the ups and downs of loss and its emotional fallout. In the former half, Farrar poses the question of quantifying it as he counts the steps backward to when love began walking away and closed the door behind it, as his ‘mates celebrate the distance through nervous drums racing down the angular patterns of Justin Davis’ lunging bass and Anthony Anzaldo’s slivered guitar in a way that recommends a new wave dance party instead of self-loathing to cure the anguish. That part eventually does hit, but in the latter half of the watch – A dreary malaise that places the relationship in the rearview with distress still as vivid, and sonically, a natural progression of Zoo cuts “Repeating the Circle” and “Video” with their blinds not entirely shutting out the light. The listen collectively moves CEREMONY into a prettier spot in the dark valley not so oddly unlike their ex-tourmates Bloc Party did with their take on shadowdancing. There’s turning back at this point, I suppose, but why would you want them to?