Ceremony: Danceable Gloom

Ceremony will keep fans happy at live shows, but also introduce their new sound

It may seem like Ross Farrar has been breaking up in song for a long time. He says that’s over, but there’s no turning back on Ceremony’s swerve toward a more pensive, post-punk pace. Fans might as well give up their steel-toed boots and studded leather to the Goodwill. Cue nostalgia for 2005 when the tiny west coast venue where you first saw them was in danger of being trashed via moshing.

Ceremony was extolled for explosive, hard-charging punk like a war, like they invented it. Their first record, released in 2006, was called Violence Violence. Levels of adrenaline and testosterone were off the charts. Lyric fragments were spat like javelins.

But for all of that, the music had melodies, and Farrar, incredibly, had diction.

Around 2010, Farrar and his girlfriend began having what he describes in an interview as “a lot of topsy-turvy stuff.” His aesthetic shifted dolefully and his songwriting proliferated with the downcast of his emotions. The music settled down correspondingly, the rumbling intensity still present, but leashed to an undercurrent.

The new work won the band a deal with mega-indie Matador Records, which would arguably be the label most likely to pick up Joy Division if they walked in the door today. As Ian Cohen recently pointed out in Pitchfork, Ceremony is named after a Joy Division song.

The band’s current tour is actually behind the band’s second recording of songs from the break up, L-Shaped Man. In music-industry time, what you’re just hearing today was recorded years ago, so Farrar by now is way over it. Yet it does sound almost like yesterday as he describes the inspiration for the song “Root of the World”. “I have a strong memory of her smoking. When we’d get in a fight, she’d kind of be off on the side chain smoking cigarettes.”

Not all the songs are gloomy. Some even hint that it was a relief to finally have it over with. “Separation,” for example, is irresistibly and happily danceable. “Yeah, that’s an upbeat song, definitely,” Farrar says. “It’s about that the initial breakup— reconciliation with that. You know, when you’re breaking up it’s usually because it has to happen.”

An interlude, of sorts, explores two series of works by visual Leslie Lerner. “Your Life in France” references Edith Piaf and Lerner’s project by that name. Its music feels like hard, fast driving around Tour de France curves. In the accompanying “Your Life in America,” named for another Lerner series, the drums sound tribal and unrelenting.

Farrar wants to reassure fans that the band’s sets are heavy on Ceremony’s back catalog, but asked if they’ll be returning to that sound, Farrar simply says, “No.” After a pause, he adds, “We’ve come so far artistically, to go back would be maybe backpedaling. I would say that we would just keep going forward and experiment more with more things. “It’s probably along the same lines, still kind of slow, trying to figure it out, you know?” Yes, we know. Growing up happens.