Ceremony - Zoo

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.

Zoo is out now on Matador. Stream it at Spin.

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.

Comments (19)
  1. Thanks, Tom. Let me shake your hand over this week’s choice…

    • …but in all seriousness, I feel like a proud parent today — Seeing the band I initially entered the Stereogum comment section fray several months ago by name-dropping out of disgust over too much LDR content finally get its due notice. The only thing that’s bothered me about today arriving is that everyone all of a sudden many sites have come out of the wood work as fans and supporters of Ceremony, as if they have always covered them before their Matador days (I’ll pat myself on the back by saying when I began my stupid humble blog back in 2010, Ceremony’s Rohnert Park was named the 2nd best album of the year, alongside other press given.) No one bothered to review their EP last year, either, even when it was known that they had signed to Matador. That bothers me. Speaking of which, Matador has been posting clips from their LPR show on YouTube throughout the day, but I suggest watching the full set as filmed by hate5six: http://vimeo.com/36292058

      This week’s new albums are a monster of year-end list contenders (Xiu Xiu, The Men are both excellent) but Ceremony being given the distinguished honors… Love it.

      That said, I’m so over Ceremony. Get ready for a shitload of tips about Whirr’s Pipe Dream coming your way, Stereogum inbox…

      • Also I want to clarify that I’m not slamming ‘Gum for choosing to cover Ceremony post-my constant nagging to / their Matador days, but rather I’m directing that criticism to their competition that never seems to be ahead of the curve but still does a good job at making it look like they are. I read a review earlier today on one site that came off like one of its founding editors and writers had formed Ceremony himself, did a search through their site to see if they had ever bothered to review a Ceremony album pre-Zoo and low and behold, nothing.

        As long as the music’s good, I guess that shouldn’t matter.

      • Short story: I was here first. Now bigger blogs than my own anonymous one are covering the band after signing to a small-biggish indie label. Also, I was here first.

  2. I think “Video” is the highlight for me from this album. It feels like the band evolving, where they hit an “A-ha!” moment and realize blunt force trauma isn’t always the best way to assault your audience. They had previously hinted at it with “The Doldrums”, but it’s much more effective here. It casts such a dour, depressing mood over everything that precedes it, that it’s more effective in exploring how fucked up everything seems to be.

    Glad you gave Open Your Heart some press, too. That’s my AOTY right now. I had high expectations, and it far surpassed them.

    • ddogdunit  |   Posted on Mar 6th, 2012 -6

      Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

      • I don’t think anyone claimed it’s punk music. They were a punk band at one point in time but they wanted to explore other sounds. It’s not even like this was out of left-field. A song like “Please Don’t Go Away”, which channels My Bloody Valentine, is their second detour through shoegaze. “If You Leave…”, off their last album, was even more explicit. This time they at least channel the MBV influence through the current album’s ragged bar band aesthetics.

        But yeah, they channel punk influences throughout the album but they’re moving more in the direction of a Replacements post-Let It Be. I don’t think anyone could have still called The Replacements a punk band by the time they were writing songs like “I Will Dare” or “Unsatisfied”. They had moved beyond their primary hardcore influences to develop their own sound. I’m not saying this album is as good as Let It Be, or that The Men are as good as The Replacements, but this is the album where they’re finally utilizing their influences to develop their own sound instead of letting those influences define it.

  3. Replace that “Z” with a “P” and the “o’s” with “e’s” and you’ve got yourself a deal

  4. Can I be the person to ironically say, ala 2001, “rock is still alive man!!!!!”

  5. i love it, thanks for the review.

  6. To be honest, the “Other notable albums out today:” is my favorite part because it really does sum up all of the great albums of the week. Haven’t really listened to Zoo, so I’ll have to.

    For me, Andrew Bird and Bowerbirds rule this week.

    Bird power.

  7. finally listened to this today after reading high praise from a lot of places, and… am i the only one who thinks this basically sounds like Green Day?? cuz it does.

  8. “Ceremony’s Zoo, an album that sounds like my high-school years exploding directly into my face.” Well said.

  9. Our good old friend Brandon seems to disagree.

    Where’s the beef?

  10. Although I’ve only listened to the first three songs, I really just want to throw in Mclusky Do Dallas and really rock out. That being said, the Men album that is being hailed around these parts is actually pretty inspired.

  11. Man, I’m listening to ‘Zoo’ right now. It’s okay, but nothing special. Not sure why Tom picked this over Springsteen or The Men. Both of those albums are better than this.

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