A stolen record
Ceremony, California’s post-punk boffins of today, have entered the spiritual realm for the making of their sixth album. In The Spirit World Now brings a sound more experimental than anything people have ever heard from them before, though somewhat stuck between moving forward and moving backward. The album is far from what someone may consider “spiritual,” but maybe this is the definition of spirituality in the mind of a punk rocker, and if so, it’s a curious venture by the band.
The record opens with “Turn Away The Bad Thing,” and it’s a surprise to hear a sound so controlled by Ceremony. The track seems to be more rhythmically driven than their earlier sounds, and there is an undeniable presence of ’80s pop-punk riffs carrying the bass line. It’s a far cry from their sonic stabs on Zoo and Still Nothing Moves You. It’s a more subdued sound, but at the same time, it seems to have lost all originality. Ceremony has always been known to take great inspiration from the pioneers of their genre—the ’80s alt-punk giants— but with this track, and subsequently the entire album, they’re practically stealing. It’s hard to pin-point the exact elements they have taken, and from whom they’ve taken them, but the overall sound is much too resonant of something The Cure, Joy Division or The Clash would have put out over 30 years ago. It’s a clever fusion, and maybe a testament to the fact that Ceremony can make music like those bands can, but it’s far from endearing or exciting.
“Further I Was” opens with an electronic drum and bass arrangement that is almost an exact replica of New Order’s “Blue Monday.” The track’s verse has a bass line and synth progression that screams of Madness, and when mixed with Ross Farrar’s uncanny vocal resemblance to Mick Jones, it’s almost impossible to see anything left of the real Ceremony and their brutal, unashamed beginnings.
The fourth track, “/,” as well as the eighth (“//”) and thirteenth track (“///”) are monologues in which the listener is presumably introduced to the natural voice of Ross Farrar. His spoken tone is far from the manic attitude he adopts when he sings, and if this is him speaking, then it furthermore proves the fact that this isn’t the real Ceremony. It’s an imitation. Oh, and also, why the British accent Ross? If you speak like an American, then you sing like an American.
“Say Goodbye To Them” is another track uncharacteristically driven by the drum and the bass. It has a running kind of energy that is slick and confident, and it is fun to listen to, but once again, it sounds all too much like something that has been done before. This resemblance speaks on a higher level to the possibility that Ceremony wanted to take their music somewhere new but didn’t have the courage or conviction to do it on their own, and whether or not they intentionally created this morphed, stolen sound, it happened, and they recorded it.
“We Can Be Free” brings listeners closer to the sound we came to know and love Ceremony for, and it’s one of the most identifiable tracks on the record because it sounds like them. The same can be said for “Never Gonna Die Now,” and it’s the tracks like these that listeners are going to hold onto. These are tracks of salvation for Ceremony’s identity, and proof that they are capable of breaking barriers and moving forward on their own.
The closing track— “Calming Water”— is the best representation of the balance this record needed. It takes from the best parts of their influences and comes into the sound of Ceremony, rather than Ceremony moving into the sound of their influencers. The guitar licks halfway through the track are interesting and bring a vivid dynamic to the song, but the album ends there. Unfortunately, the rest of the record is somewhat a wrestling match between The Cure on steroids, The Clash with a synthesizer and the remnants of what Ceremony used to be.
In The Spirit World Now is a good record. It has depth, it has force and there is consideration to its production. So if you’re able to ignore the double act, and you’re not bothered by the unoriginal semblances, then this is an album you will enjoy. But if you’re a fan of Joy Division, The Cure, The Clash, New Order or basically any post-punk alternative band from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, then listen to their music, because they’re the ones who continue to own and revolutionize the genre, not Ceremony.