This was a tough one. A whole lot of good albums come out today, including two that I think are just fucking great: The Men’s Open Your Heart and Ceremony’s Zoo. Both of those albums come from bands with hardcore-scene roots that are figuring out ways to harness their fuck-shit-up power and putting it in the service of bigger sounds and wider ideas. And both represent something I’m really enjoying: A resurgence in blunt, wrathful boot-to-skull indie rock — something I’m also hearing in excellent new releases from bands like Cloud Nothings, Screaming Females and my dudes Mr. Dream. Open Your Heart is the moment that the Men, who were cranking out awesomely disgusting pigfuck as recently as last summer, discover the thrills of bar-rock riffage and inclusive party yowls. It’s a fiery, liberating album, and it would waltz right into this particular distinction almost any other week this year. But then there’s also Ceremony’s Zoo, an album that sounds like my high-school years exploding directly into my face, and that one’s great, too. I’ve been going back and forth all week, but in the end, I’m giving it to Zoo. Seriously, though: Go out of your way to listen to both albums.
Matador doesn’t exactly sign a whole lot of hardcore bands, but the two on its roster are something of an interesting binary. Fucked Up, already ambitious scene iconoclasts before they inked their big-indie deal, responded by pushing their sound to absurd classic-rock heights: Conceptual stunts, six-minute songs, one gigantic and impenetrable rock opera. Trash Talk, now on board with Matador sub-label True Panther, went the opposite direction. Last year’s Awake EP might’ve been just slightly more accessible than anything they’d done before, but it still hurtled by in less than 10 minutes and gave no indication that the band wanted to dull its short, sharp blasts of concentrated world-hate. On their own Matador debut, Ceremony have found something of a middle ground. They’re still recognizably the same band that released the excellent 2010 album Rohnert Park, which turned frontman Ross Farrar’s awesomely petulant snot-wail toward targets as close-to-home as his own genre’s sacred cows (“Sick of Black Flag! / Sick of Cro-Mags!”). But they’ve sharpened their attack by blunting it: Slowing tempos, beefing up riffage, writing a few absolutely searing hooks.
For this one, the band linked up with producer John Goodmanson, an indie rock professional who has already secured himself a place in heaven by helping Sleater-Kinney to capture their own innate power on a few stone-classic albums. Goodmanson gives Ceremony’s sound a churning, bottom-heavy depth. The guitars no longer sound like thumbtacks flicked at your ears; they’re big, tangible slabs of heavy instead. And when the band dials down the brutality, that new expansiveness can help them find a certain ugly majesty. The elegiac “Hotel” and “Nosebleed” are the strongest examples of the band’s Pixies influence yet, and “Repeating The Circle” has atmospheric TV-news sound-bites sprinkled throughout like the Big Boys’ immortal “Sound On Sound.” The album-closing “Video,” with its four and a half minutes of slow build, shows a commendable level of patience and, dare I say, restraint.
But when the band drops the hammer and returns to full-bore punk, that deeper sound also pays dividends. Consider the brief, hammering hardcore shout-along “World Blue,” which gets lift from its sludgy guitars. “Adult” is practically ’60s garage-rock — a riff-stomping tantrum about the frustrating inevitability of getting older. And then there’s the album-opening “Hysteria,” currently doing battle with “Rack City” and “Shot Caller” as my favorite 2012 single. It goes from brutal trudge to elemental caveman lurch to monolithic gang-chant mass catharsis, ending just as it’s getting going and leaving my head spinning. Even with its beefed-up production, Ceremony are still just a very good punk band executing old punk tricks to massive effectiveness. And there’s still plenty of juice left in that.
Other notable albums out today:
• The Men’s versatile scuzz-rock rage-out Open Your Heart.
• Bowerbirds’ warm, subtle The Clearing.
• Magnetic Fields’ arch-synthpop return to form Love At The Bottom Of The Sea.
• Bruce Springsteen’s brawny, well-intentioned, sometimes-effective Wrecking Ball.
• White Rabbits’ rhythmic, populist indie-pop LP Milk Famous.
• Nite Jewel’s eerie synthpop trip One Second Of Love.
• Every Time I Die’s metalcore firebomb Ex Lives.
• Pond’s dazed psych-rock effort Beard Wives Denim.
• Dunes’ fuzzed-out debut Noctiluca.
• Alex Winston’s bent-pop venture King Con.
• Andrew Bird’s precise, open-hearted comeback Break It Yourself.
• Mike Wexler’s zoned-out, atmospheric Dispossession.
• Xiu Xiu’s latest art-pop provocation Always.