Ceremony - The L-Shaped Man (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


The L-Shaped Man (2015)

Matador Records

Let's get this out of the way: Ceremony's sound has evolved. If you thought Zoo was a departure from Rohnert Park, or that Rohnert Park was a departure from Still Nothing Moves You, you'll surely think The L-Shaped Man is another departure, and you'd be correct. While opinions about the band's evolving sound are many and varied, in the final analysis, the key question is whether the music is good, rather than whether the next album sounds like that last, and the answer to that question is a clear yes. While Ceremony's current output may hem closer to influences like Joy Division and Wire, rather than Black Flag and Cro-Mags, what hasn't changed is the passion and proficiency on display.

Following a stark, piano-led intro, the album kicks off with "Exit Fears," drawing the listener in with a deep, bellowing bass tone that sticks around for the duration of the record. As Anthony Anzaldo's riffs, which are normally front and center in Ceremony's work, fade into the background on The L-Shaped Man, the bass lines come to the fore, adding a level of depth that helps enhance the emotional layers of Ross Farrar's vocal performance. And make no mistake, Farrar's vocals are the key to the record, in a different way than his growls have been key on past Ceremony records. On The L-Shaped Man, Farrar croons, drones and reveals a vulnerability that we haven't seen before. And just when you think he's moved beyond the snarl of the past, it surfaces again on "Root of the World," a track that sounds as if it would have been more at home on Zoo and also hearkens back to "The Doldrums (Friendly City)" off of Rohnert Park.

While much of the reaction to the songs already released off The L-Shaped Man has centered on the slower, more subdued sound, it's important to note that there's no lack of energy on this record. In fact, the energy so common on Ceremony's previous releases is very much present, creating a unique juxtaposition. In many ways, the sound pioneered by Joy Division has never felt so full of life and vitality. "Bleeder" is a fine example of this phenomenon, with it's rythymic verses leading toward an ending that, while relatively tame compared to Ceremony's earlier work, is one of the album's heaviest moments.

Considering their recent output, one can't help by wonder if Ceremony is toying with us. In the past few years, the band has moved effortlessly between genres, showcasing a mastery of each they've attempted, seemingly on the very first try. Are they exploring all the corners of punk and its offshoots? Are they simply waiting to see how we react each time they pivot in a different direction? The evidence points to the former, as the band seems to have little time for the chorus of doubters who lament each and every step they take away from their younger selves. And if not caring what anyone thinks has taken Ceremony this far, why should they start caring now?