Ceremony – Zoo

Ceremony
Zoo
Matador Records

What does it mean to be an adult? This is a question I ask my self almost daily. After all at 35, I look more like a kid then ever. I suspect I act more like a kid now then I did when I was at an age where most people still wouldn’t have considered me an adult.

Adulthood. Blech. I’ve fought joining along with it my entire life. It seemed soft and full of compromise for the sake of others and not for what was right. And sure, I grew fat and slow physically, but I look at the pictures of my friends on facebook, and I don’t see faces I relate to anymore a lot of the times. And it doesn’t always have to do with marriage and jobs and kids. Those things change you, sure. Family should change you. But it shouldn’t transform you into something unrecognizable to the people you grew up with. Neither should jobs or relationships. And while I’d like to think I’ve grown and progressed, I am fairly certain I have never devolved into some shell of a human being.

This is what Ceremony wants us to believe on its controversial new album Zoo. The world of adults is nothing but boredom, failure, ugliness and monotony. And in so many ways, this is a convincing record carrying that message. Unfortunately, even I have to admit now that their legacy as a hardcore band complicates the effectiveness of their message. Zoo is one of those albums where the messengers’ own story gets in the way of the art.

I should first say, that I enjoy this album. From start to finish, it’s a great punk record, pulling on a great number of influences and finally adopting that Joy Division worship into something familiar. Zoo is a gritty, garage punk album with tastes of the genre that spans its existence. The guitars are sharp and cutting as Ceremony has always been known for and Russ Farrar still sounds like damaged goods, though he’s clearly changed the cadence of his voice.

What’s hard to swallow, as a fan of this band though, is the radical change in sound. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s fantastic. But this is not the Ceremony I have grown to know and love over the last two years. It is an entirely new band, with only scant aspects of their former, face splitting, floor rolling, spit, piss and blood identity. This album, unlike anything they’ve done previously is palpable. Even their contract required covers EP, which was horrid, was at least unlistenable and grotesque. And for a band of Ceremony’s history, with a carnal nature hell-bent on self-destruction rather than introspection, this feels like a safe bet. Especially considering the theme of the album is all about growing up.

Here’s where I get tripped up. They have this great anthem at the center of the album called “Adult” and it literally asks “How did we get so old?”. But is that question of its audience or of the band itself that seems to have “slowed down”? Farrar even goes so far as to suggest that being an adult means giving up the things we love, suggesting that passion will always lose out to comfort and security. And I’m not going to lie, comfort and security are two things I too am looking for. But not at the expense of myself, of doing the things I love, of expressing myself, even when that expression seems immature and juvenile to my peers who used to stand in solidarity with me.

And so, to my ears, Zoo is a safe bet because it sounds like a safe bet. Everything is crisp and clear and clean. I don’t want to smash my head through a window as Ceremony has nearly inspired of me. It doesn’t inspire me to yell, not in the same fashion as past efforts, but it does bother me at a certain level. Because I want people to age and get increasingly angry, upset and invested, because they should be engaged in the world around them. Because as an adult I have learned that those who occupy the financial power in this world, they want you to be excluded, to feel content and relaxed, but not engaged. And I have never felt more alienated by the world around me then I do as an adult. Which isn’t to say I don’t have awesome friends my age that chose to live in opposition of a world that makes it increasingly more difficult just to get by. But again, I’ve seen so many faces from my past, and I don’t recognize them that much anymore. It’s not because they’ve changed physically as they’ve aged, but that reckless abandonment where they were willing to fight and love is gone. Zoo feels like that kind of resign, that kind of containment. Maybe that’s the point I am missing, but it’s not easy to see.

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Jesus Hates Punk Rock and Hard Core Music.

Ceremony
Rohnert Park LP
Bridge 9

This is a picture of me with my vinyl copy of Ceremony’s new album Rohnert Park. This is here to prove that I have in fact bought a copy of this album. See, last night I was on a message board that was talking about this album. Half the kids said it was good and half the kids, who used to be fans hated it. So I had to check this out. Normally, these days I go to a myspace page or someplace that is streaming the album, but no such dice on this one folks. I did find it uploaded on some mediafire file sharing place. Now, I am known to do this from time to time. Generally if I hate the music (which I mostly do) I don’t listen to the record anymore. But if I love it, I usually buy the album. This time, I loved it so much I hauled my ass all the way from the burbs to DC and bought a copy tonight. It came with a download card. So now I am stoked cuz I get the official version while my mom has my record player (no kidding).

So, here is the deal, Rohnert Part is one of the most neurotic fucking punk albums I have heard in a long time. As a general rule, punk is supposed to be kind of dangerous and on the verge of melting down. But these days, so much punk music is safe and predictable, that frankly I forget it’s supposed to ruin my life. Rohnert Park makes me want to stab people in the face. This is twisted, gnarly, fucked out music made by guys who have lost their minds. All the angry kids, bummed out that this band doesn’t sound the same, I have a feeling Ceremony doesn’t really give a fuck what you think. Rohnert Part was made to piss people off. Not just normal people, but people who listen to punk music.

I have no idea what this band used to sound like. Frankly, I don’t really give a fuck what they were supposed to sound like. This shit is so brain-damaged that it actually makes me feel like maybe I can cope with the stress, anxiety, depression and bullshit job that are a part of my everyday life. Because that is what this album is about, madness, annihilation, self-destruction, self loathing and hating the entire world. This band is standing on the edge of the Eiffel Tower with an Atom Bomb and there just waiting for the right moment to drop it so they can go home and be done with this place. Album of the year. I am calling it right here.

Blacklisted
No One Deserves to Be Here More Than Me
Deathwish Inc.

Sometimes it takes another album to put an unrelated album in context. That happened to me today. I’ve been sitting on No One Deserves To Be Here More Than Me (I am not sure if this is a direct play on Miranda July’s No One Deserves to Be Here More Than You but I suspect it is) for a good few months. I think I actually got this in December of 2009. But this record didn’t have a release date or any pre-press. Basically, a week before Deathwish had them, they took pre-orders for VINYL ONLY. I think the record just became available on iTunes, on CD and in stores just a month ago. So were gonna say this is a new record. But anyway, as I was listening to Ceremony, you know, the record you just read about, I started thinking about No One Deserves to Be Here More Than Me. This album, is the hardcore version of Rohnert Park (yes uninitiated public, there is a difference between punk and hardcore, though they are in the same vein). And now I realize my confusion to this album was because Blacklisted was trying to piss me the fuck off. Guess what, it didn’t work.

This shit is barely a hardcore album. Frankly I don’t know what to call it. Singer, George Hirsch, is such a self loathing sad bastard, who loves to tear himself apart in public, at least it feels that way. I don’t know, this shit seems so sincere. And the album owes as much to Nirvana and The Melvins as it does to New York and Boston Hardcore. It’s mostly and album covered is so much sludge and self hatred that it’s like the band ran over itself right after they emptied the oil tank onto themselves from their tour van.

But Blacklisted definitely went off the deep end on this one. I mean, it’s not a stretch on the surface. Some of the songs are pretty straight forward, but they do have some trumpet in some of the songs, used quite well in album opener “Our Apartment Is Always Empty”. They also have an acoustic song, “The P.I.G (The Problem is G)” which is not a bad song at all, but Hirsch could utilize some singing lessons. I mean, dude has a great voice for yelling into the microphone, but he’s no Robert Goulet. They do a lot of other things though, that hardcore bands just don’t do. I mean, it’s loud, it’s heavy, they have slow parts and songs which is not uncommon these days, but this record would not have been out of place had it come out in the 90’s along side Mudhoney and Dinosaur Jr. At first this record kind of pissed me off, but I think it was supposed to. And now I kind of like it. A lot.

In the end, it’s not quite as successful as Rohnert Park and it’s a bit uncouth for me to compare one band to another. But I feel like these albums are siblings. Both are from well established bands who have had a lot of hype fall their way who ultimately turned their backs on the safe road and made the albums they wanted to make, nevermind what the pack of 15-19 year old white suburban boys say on the internet. At my age, this music isn’t really targeted at me. Most people grow out of this phase of their lives, or they hide it. But you know, these albums are made by people probably closer to my age then most of their fans. And it’s exactly the kind of albums I want to hear.