Ceremony - In the Spirit World Now (Synthetic Remixes) (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


In the Spirit World Now (Synthetic Remixes) (2020)


To Ceremony’s credit, after releasing the landmark Rohnert Park, the band didn’t rest on their laurels. (There are those that would suggest that RP is actually where the band jumped the shark, but you won’t find any of that nonsense here). Instead of releasing Rohnert Park II, the band radically shifted gears and went post-punk and then after that, arguably indie rock.

Frankly, had the band stayed on their path, they could have carved out a decent living as a band that did what they did very well, every two or three years. So, you have to give them credit for having the chutzpah to take bigger swings. Frankly, though, the swings didn’t always land. Zoo was interesting, but perhaps a little long in the tooth. L-Shaped Man had an interesting high-concept, but in practice, it didn’t quite play out. In the Spirit World Now did, in fact, land the pitch- sort of a post-punk/new wave/Tubeway Army kinda thing, the band kept their artsy edge while pulling a certain catchiness back into their tunes (you may hate to admit it, but one of the reason RP was so damn nice was because it was extremely catchy).

So, maybe because they’ve been trying a lot of different things, it’s a welcome surprise that In the Spirit World Now (Synthetic Remixes) is a homerun. For the album, essentially, the band kept the original’s vocal tracks, and then bolted all new synth-only music in the back.

The success of this gambit is particularly surprising because the rock world has not had much success in the dance realm. In the 90s, when EDM was first gaining traction in the mainstream, many rock bands remixed their tunes into dance versions to… terrible results. (If you ask me, the Rolling Stones are the greatest band ever, but their “dance” “remixes” of songs from Voodoo Lounge and Bridges to Babylon are probably criminal affronts). Though, I do suppose you could argue that punk and dance have been linked since the early says, looking towards New Order and the industrial/goth bands. Still, with those examples, the electronic aspect was there at the time the tunes were written. Apparently, here, the electronic aspect was added after the tracks were completed.

It really is surprising how well these tracks take to the synth-treatment. Surely, a fairly 80s vibe runs through the whole thing. The revamped synths are mostly cold and robotic. Yet, as with all those great 80s dance numbers, these are again very catchy tunes. “Further I Was” nods slightly to “Blue Monday.” “Years of Love” sounds like its coming from a mad scientists lab and could pass off as a video game soundtrack (and I mean that in a good way- video game music, is by definition, required to be extremely re-listenable). “From another age” almost, well, sorta, kinda, maybe, just a little, feels slightly like… “the safety dance.” But, this may be by design. Ceremony haven’t been shy about expressing some anger towards their audience for feeling boxed in by audience expectations- see, for example, their new “I like the new ceremony” t-shirts just released. So, you could make the argument that saluting the poppiest of all shallow, pop songs is an aggressive strike-back.

And that’s not to say that all pop music is hollow. But, as catchy as the safety dance is, there’s not much lyrical substance- and then again, maybe there is something interesting in taking meaningless backing music and dropping the substantial lyrics of “From another age onto it”?

Perhaps the biggest success of the new record is that it feels like there is joy in music for Ceremony again. By their very nature, Zoo and L-shaped man were extremely serious and really didn’t have much “fun” to them. That’s fine, not everything has to be fun. But, Ceremony tracks that struck the deepest seem to locked together earnest expression with a sense of excitement or even whimsy. “Sick”, while making a true statement at the time, had a certain self-awareness or silliness with lines like “I’m sick of Black Flag/Sick of Cro-Mags!” Kersed’s “pack your first full of hate and take a swing at the world!” is intense, but also cathartic in a good way. That’s back here and it’s refreshing. The sparse, Kraftwerk clink of “turn away the bad thing” is buzzy and reminds me of Gauntlet. “Calming water,” which floats by in almost new age wash, gives the sense of soaring with its huge, airy sound. Ceremony is experimenting, they’re having fun doing it, and we’re reaping the benefits.

Who knows if they felt this way, but from the outside perspective, one wonders if Ceremony had backed themselves into a corner. As each release became more self-serious and removed from hardcore, it seemed that the band might have either trapped themselves into being an indie band and that alone, or admit that to move so far from the punk sound- and to do it with such glee- was a mis-step. Perhaps surprisingly, the band has found a new way forward. The original version of this album was certainly a strong step into the band finding fresh, new ground that was also exciting as punk. So, that’s why I’m stunned that the side project of that album, is what is really opening doors for the group. Finally, it feels the band can go in any direction, and that direction isn’t dictated by what came before, but what is yet to be.