I’ve been listening to Ceremony’s self-titled debut almost non-stop since the disc arrived in the mail, and before that, I was listening to the songs on their MySpace page with about the same degree of frequency. The vast majority of that listening took place on headphones, and indeed, that seems about the only way to really experience the band’s dense, chaotic, ear-piercing, and for folks like me, utterly exhilarating sound.
The most obvious jumping off point for Ceremony’s sound is Psychocandy-era Jesus And Mary Chain, with hints of Joy Division and a touch of industrial thrown in for good measure. And you know that means. These songs are composed as much of feedback, distortion, and tape hiss as they are chords and melodies; the vocals are so distant and detached that even “phoned in” doesn’t accurately describe their aloofness; and a sort of icy-cool gloom pervades the whole thing, imbuing it with a sort of epic-ness that is much greater than the sum of parts.
Not too long ago, I wrote that Balún is one of those groups that has a rare ability to take… cliches to their outermost expression and push right on through, subsequently inverting and making them sound unique and fresh once more. That’s even truer of Ceremony, whose music is rife with all manner of goth and shoegaze music cliches, cliches that they then proceed to annihilate and redeem under the sheer mass of feedback and distortion that they bring to bear.
Make no mistake, Ceremony’s sound is louder than loud, which should come as no surprise. The two members — Paul Baker (vocals, guitars) and John Fedowitz (vocals, bass, drum machine) — were formerly in the sadly unknown Skywave. But even while it’s threatening to rend your eardrums in two, there’s something fragile and even lovely in the duo’s sound. Just as My Bloody Valentine’s sound could become so massive that it became delicate and sensual, overtones crashing into eachother and revealing new, even more angelic sounds, Ceremony’s music does emerge glorious from the fiery wreckage.
The disc’s last two tracks, “Clouds” and “Old,” are especially nice. “Clouds” coasts by on a layer of feedback carved of pure chrome, shimmering and blinding in the light of the setting sun. Meanwhile, the duo’s dispassionate vocals intone “If you leave, leave for faraway/‘Cause I couldn’t stand to see your breaking face” from somewhere high overhead. Or at least, that’s what I think they’re singing. In keeping with the finest of shoegazer traditions, the vocals just blur in with the rest of the sounds until it ends on a sweeping cascade of pure, exhilarating noise.
And while listening to “Old,” I hear my speakers crackling from all of the sounds contained within. The arching fuzz bass sounds huge, the guitars are aglow like neon from all of the effects they’re running through, the feedback is ramped up until it crashes against the song’s sides like breakers, and the duo’s vocals drift in the background, impassive and serene in the storm.
On second thought, maybe it’s not the speakers, but rather my eardrums. Maybe I just can’t tell anymore, this disc has done such damage to my hearing. Ah well, it really makes no difference. I want to listen to it all again, and turn the volume up just a wee bit more, to the point where the walls between the music and the world around me in my headphones come crashing down, and everything blurs together in a blinding light.