Breakup albums mark a turning point for a band: the moment when their sound completely changes and reaches a new level of emotional clarity. All that heartbreak and malaise condensed into any single record often makes for a defining piece of work, no matter the genre. The best records explore the nooks and crannies of sadness, learning it inside and out — celebrating it.
Ceremony’s fifth studio album, The L-Shaped Man, uses singer Ross Farrar’s recent breakup as a platform to explore loneliness and emotional weariness, but it is by no means a purely sad album. Rather than look inward, Farrar uses his experience to write about what it means to go through something heavy and come out the other side a different person.
In order to tell Farrar's story, Ceremony have almost completely stripped back the propulsive hardcore of their previous records, turning every angry outburst into simmering despair. “We’ve always tried to be minimalists in writing, even if it’s loud or fast or abrasive,” says lead guitarist Anthony Anzaldo. “It’s really intense when I hear it. Not in a way where you turn everything up to ten. Things are so bare, you’re holding this one note for so long and you don’t now where it’s going—to me, that’s intensity.” That intensity is apparent on “Exit Fears,” the first full song on the record. It meticulously pairs Justin Davis’ loping bassline, which pulls the track along, with Anzaldo's icy, minimal guitar work. It brings to mind some alternate version of Joy Division that hasn’t quite lost all hope. It gets close to exploding, but instead plays the shadows, never quite rising above a nervous simmer.
“A lot of the content has to do with loss, and specifically the loss of someone who you care deeply about,” Farrar says. “There is no way for you to go through something like this artistically and not have really strong emotions of loss and pain. There’s not really any way to hide that.” Farrar, for his part, is singing with a new kind of intensity, his baritone swooping and retreating from stressed angst to unsettling near-mutter as he sings, “You told your friends you were fine/ you thought you were fine too…” and later, “nothing is ever fine/ nothing ever feels right/ you have to tell yourself you tried.” It’s the first of many lyrically direct moments, and it should be hard to listen to, but Ceremony have so effortlessly nailed the sound of sadness that it feels great to live inside for awhile.
The sound is abetted by producer John Reis, who honed his sound in seminal bands like Rocket from the Crypt, Drive Like Jehu, and Hot Snakes. Much of the gravelly aggression he experimented with in those bands is present on The L-Shaped Man.
There's a story behind the title too. “I was speaking to our driver Stephen while on tour,” Farrar says. “We were talking about men in general and what shape they are…their body type. I said, ‘I guess men are in the shape of an L. The torso is straight. Vertical. And then you have the little feet at the end.’ There’s this painter named Leslie Lerner who was living in San Francisco in the ‘70s and ‘80s and made these beautiful paintings. He died on my 21st birthday. A lot of the record is about the similarities in our ideas. In what we’re trying to make. Things that have to do with love and losing love.”
Following the release of COLD BEATS Worms/Year 5772 EP via bandleader HANNAH LEW’s (GRASS WIDOW) Crime on the Moon imprint, Over Me is the Bay Area act’s debut album. Propulsive and taut performances from guitarist KYLE KING and drummer BIANCA SPARTA (ERASE ERRATA) bely Lew’s glassy vocal melodies. A cathartic album, Lew sourced difficult personal experiences to create an immersive lyrical world sometimes fraught with paranoia, anxiety and impending doom, and also an exploration of hope and imagination—themes felt ever more acutely by a native San Franciscan artist in the midst of tech boom cataclysm once again. Over Me was recorded by PHIL MANLEY at Lucky Cat Studios in San Francisco, and mixed and mastered by MIKEY YOUNG in Australia. As a Crime on the Moon release, a percentage of sales benefit Charity: Water, an organization committed to eliminating privation in developing nations.
A meditation on the duality of identity, “Mirror” rides tear-drop guitar leads into a buoyant chorus, then cascades mightily towards an exalted outro. It is the first of three album tracks to receive music videos created by Lew. Elsewhere, the menacing “UV” couples fetishistic imagery with instrumental vigor, while the dystopian subject matter in “Out of Time” finds Lew’s vocals entwined in the sky, on a swift ascent to space with only glistening notes in their wake. Seething with circuitous anxieties, even teetering at times towards terror, Over Me ultimately marvels in the face of staggering unknowns.