Archive for the ‘Ceremony’ Category

Matthew Stoff’s Top 10 Albums of 2015

Saturday, December 19th, 2015

Regular LIFE IS NOISE contributor Matthew Stoff shares 10 of his favourite releases from the year that was.

Ten albums seems like way too few for a year as packed with great releases as 2015. Because of that, I wanted to talk about the albums that I keep coming back to, rather than trying to come up with a more definitive list of albums of the year. You might not think of these as the best releases of 2015, but they’re the ones that spoke to me the most. With that in mind, here’s my end of year list:

1. Algiers – Algiers
Cold wave, Marxism, and soul might seem like a funny combination, but after Algiers self-titled album I can’t imagine what my life would be without it. This is one of most innovative albums of the decade, and its hard-hitting, courageous, and challenging political commentary is the icing on the cake.

2. Gold Class – It’s You
I can’t get enough of Gold Class. They’re smart, passionate, and totally authentic. Their live show is amazing too. Gold Class are indisputably the best traditional-sounding post-punk band in Australia at the moment. Maybe even in the world.

3. Sleater-Kinney – No Cities To Love
Sleater-Kinney’s revival album could have been a lot of things. It could have been out of touch, or lacking energy, or just a simple rehash of their old material. What it was, was nothing less than a masterpiece. It feels as though they’d never left at all.

4. Ought – Sun Coming Down
Sun Coming Down is a weird album. It’s post-punk, but it isn’t really post-punk, with atypical vocals, rambling song structures, and pop-but-not-really-pop-at-all melodies. A singular experience.

5. Heat Dust – Heat Dust
Heat Dust play traditional post-punk really hard and really fast, and I liked this album a lot more than the similarly inspired recent release from Protomartyr. Your results might vary. They’re both incredible, high-octane albums, even if this is the one that made my final list.

6. Ceremony – The L-Shaped Man
Some people might see this album as a contentious choice. It’s pretty generic, and looking at reviews after the fact, it feels like mine is one of the only ones that presents the album in a positive light. But nostalgia is powerful thing, and my nostalgia for the indie pop-infused post-punk revival of the early 2000s is very strong indeed. The mix of that and Ceremony’s lingering hardcore influences gives this album a novel sound that keeps me coming back for more.

7. Deafcult – Deafcult
As far as dream pop goes, these guys are the reigning kings. Dense, melodic shoegaze with great production, played at ear-shattering volume from a Brisbane band. What’s not to love?

8. Mourn – Mourn
Everything about this band is so unlikely. Their place of origin, their age, their musical inspirations: everything that makes them who they are. But that’s why this release is so important. It’s got a youthful sound to it. A sense that anything is possible. And it largely succeeds at all things it’s set out to do. A truly inspiring album.

9. JuliaWhy? – Wheel
I reviewed this album once for 4ZZZ and never mentioned it again, probably because it falls between the lines of various genres, and was hard to compare with anything I wrote about for LIFE IS NOISE this year. But I wanted to mention it here, because it’s a fantastic album, combining high energy delivery with lo-fi production, and subtle feminist politics. My choice for sleeper hit album of the year.

10. Metz – Metz II
Sure, it’s a little shallow and not too different from the first Metz album, yet the brutal but fantastically melodic noise rock of Metz still brings a smile to my face whenever I hear it, and that’s enough for me.

Ceremony — The L-Shaped Man

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

Californian hardcore punk band Ceremony are no longer a hardcore punk band. This decision is bound to ruffle the feathers of their few remaining hardcore fans who weren’t entirely alienated by the Wire-inspired shifts toward a classic post-punk sound on their previous albums, 2010’s Rohnert Park and 2012’s Zoo, but even those fans would be forced to admit that it wasn’t unforeseeable. Ceremony’s sound has been drifting for years and it’s only on their latest album, The L-Shaped Man, that they’ve really got it right. It isn’t fair to judge the sound on what it isn’t, and this isn’t heavy music anymore. What this is is hardcore-edged post-punk revival, similar in sound to UK bands like Editors or The Cinematics. If that’s not what you’re into, then Ceremony’s new album is not for you. But if you’re interested in seeing how they’ve put it all together, and how their sound compares to other artists in their new and incredibly crowded genre, then read on. You might be surprised at what you find.

After the minimalistic, piano driven opener “Hibernation”, the album starts strong with “Exit Fears,” taking a stuttering 4/4 drum beat similar to the opening of Editors’ “Smokers Outside The Hospital Doors” and layering on bass and parallel guitar lines to create a smoky, film-noir sort of feel. The Wire obviously runs deep, with a similar mix of jangly guitar chords and clear and prominent vocals. It ebbs and flows, twisting around a repeated guitar riff in the verse, and crescendoing into walls of sound in the choruses, like waves crashing against a rocky beach. This is followed by the driving, energetic sound of “Bleeder,” with its rat-a-tat guitars and blast-beat drumming, hardcore elements that emphasise the force behind the accusatory vocals. The guitar tone is buzzy and unusually lo-fi, while the mixing is crisp and professional, an interesting midpoint between D.I.Y. and radio-friendly rock that creates a subtle tension, like a threat of hidden violence that could explode at any time. You get the same feeling from tracks like “Root of The World,” with its shoegaze guitars and howling vocals, or the raw, emotional anguish of “The Bridge,” with its sing-a-long, miserable lyrics and hoarsely shouted choruses. The best moments of the album occur on tracks like this one where the vestiges of traditional punk and hardcore mix with the more consistent indie influences to create this unstable hybrid that feels a knife’s edge away from completely falling apart. At its worst, it’s just a little boring, with competent but typical tracks like “The Party” or “The Understanding” neither dragging the album down nor being interesting enough to stand out. It’s really an album’s worth of fantastic singles, some of which will leave you in awe, and others that you’ll want to dance along to even if they remind you of songs you’ve heard before.

You might accuse Ceremony of selling out, and fair enough — this is probably the most marketable music they’ve ever made. But there’s too much going on here for that hypothesis to fit. Music that sounds like this isn’t really popular anymore. While most people will accept that Interpol and Editors were fantastic for the time, they’re considered to be “of the time” today as well. And the on-going newer wave of post-punk revival seems to be less focused on pop hooks and melody, and more on lo-fi mixes of 90’s indie with 80’s punk. This album isn’t really any of that. It’s off-trend, and more-importantly, consistent with everything the band has done before. It feels like a labour of love, and it was an incredibly risky one. They could have killed the last of their traditional fanbase, while failing to stand out enough from other bands to attract any kind of new attention. But that didn’t happen here. Ceremony’s new album might be rubbish hardcore, but it’s fantastic post-punk revival. And it’s really the hardcore elements that push it over the edge: the drums, or the anger behind the vocals. That’s where the album shines; it sets their sound apart from everybody else and hopefully it’s an angle they’ll continue to explore on future releases. But either way, The L-Shaped Man is a memorable record. You might not approve of what they’re doing here, but they do it very well. And anyway, Ceremony named themselves after a Joy Division song. Doesn’t it make more sense they’d sound a bit like this?

The L-Shaped Man is out May 19 through Matador.