The first time I put on Ceremony’s new record, Rohnert Park, I knew I’d heard it somewhere before. The promotional material told me I was supposed to be reminded of protopunk and 80s hardcore. RIYL Fucked Up, Black Flag, and the Stooges. Maybe. But that didn’t sound quite right.
Then it clicked. On Rohnert Park, Ceremony reminds me of Flipper, the San Francisco punk band that didn’t tune, played terribly and slowly, and featured irritatingly repetitive vocals. Flipper hopped on hardcore bills just to mess with the scene’s expectations. And they were awesome for it. Ceremony takes a similar approach, and this record is already dividing hardcore kids.
Rohnert Park begins with “Into the Wayside Part I” (of III) and leads directly into the first true song of the record, “Sick.” On “Sick,” vocalist Ross Farrar lists a whole bunch of stuff he’s sick of, including 20 year old bands like Cro-Mags and Black Flag (presumably because they rhyme), politics domestic and international (realism?), and even–you guessed it–sick of being sick.
“M.C.D.F.” swings awkwardly, and “Moving Principle” rails against the modern world (hate that thing). The next track, “The Doldrums (Friendly City),” is a slogging three minutes of piercing single note melodies and jangling guitars, torpedoing the momentum of the first few tracks. Later in the record, Ceremony offers the No Trend -esque “Into the Wayside II,” which forgoes lyrics in favor of a story about saving some old guy (I think), and includes an ill-advised guitar solo.
The album continues with four indistinguishable minute-and-change songs, and then, inexplicably, it gets great.
“The Pathos” and “Nigh to Life” make the most of the grinding bass tone and–for the fist time on the record–the music rises up to match the vocals. And it’s during these songs that Ceremony sounds the most comfortable. The album concludes with the final installment of “Into the Wayside,” which vocally and musically recalls mid-era Elliot Smith (I know, right?), and features a woman’s speaking voice (David Axelrod gets a shout out) and a great chorus. Ultimately, and after a minute of silence, the buzzsaw bass and pummeling drums return to close out the record.
Which brings me back to Flipper. The concept of out-punking the punks, of undermining expectations and saying “DEAL WITH IT,” is amazing. You can’t listen to Album – Generic Flipper without getting a bit of a wry, in-joke smile. And with Flipper, it’s not like they could have done better–they were really terrible at their instruments. But on Rohnert Park, it’s clear that Ceremony could have made a truly excellent album (for example, if they released the last three songs on this record as an EP). So, while it’s great to raise a middle finger to presumptions, it doesn’t necessarily make for the most enjoyable listen.
Rohnert Park is out on Bridge Nine Records.