The San Francisco punks’ anger has been refined and reshaped on LP number four.
Chris Parkin 2012-03-16
This new (fourth) album by Bay Area five-piece Ceremony has reignited an argument that’s been raging for millennia – what is punk? Is this what it sounds like? Shouldn’t a real punk album be called Maniacal Holiday or something? All tiresome questions of course. Especially when Zoo is actually an exercise in how to transform from a band whose youthful 13-minute debut was chockablock with eff-you punk-rock platitudes into something else without stinking out the place.
In the mid-to-late 00s, Ceremony were a furious supernova of a band. But just as grown-ups should stop riding BMXs in their 20s, anger – and the way it’s expressed – should also evolve. It happened to Black Flag and, more recently, F***ed Up, who turned into a string-swelled, hopeful, punk-opera band with lessons to teach.
F***ed Up’s new Matador label-mates Ceremony don’t make the change with quite the same warmly empathetic bear hug that Pink Eyes and Co. did, but they haven’t done too badly either. Ceremony are still fond of scrappy punk rocking, but they’re certainly not the same band whose second album was described as "hardcore’s equivalent of Hiroshima". Zoo – their first set not released on hardcore label Bridge Nine – is less nihilistic, their anger turning into grimly foreboding disappointment and frustration.
At its best, Zoo prowls menacingly and intensely, shrouded in sheets of steely guitar and fogs of squall and distortion. Catchy, venom-armed songs roil with garage-rock riffs and almost comically creepy bass lines, as on the twanging, groovesome and gothic Hotel. Repeating the Circle shows off a love of Joy Division, who wrote the song this band takes its name from. And just like The Ponys and Disappears, who Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelley is drumming with at the moment, there’s a definite 77-80 UK punk and post-punk influence, notably on the bashing Ordinary People and in Ross Farrar’s sneering vocals.
This mood-heavy mix doesn’t always work. A few straight-up garage numbers stumble into a thorny hedge on the wrong side of punk-pop, while the fuzz-pop of Community Service sounds as if it were recorded by one of the weaker Class of 2003 New York bands. But there is a compelling darkness in some of these songs that serves up more than just a minor threat.